Imagine a payday with no paycheck.
This may soon be the reality for the staff of the One Stop Richmond Hill Community Center, whose operational budget dried up when disgraced former Assemblymember Anthony Seminerio tendered his letter of resignation effective Tuesday, June 23 and pleaded guilty to one count of honest services mail fraud the following day.
According to Joan Bachert, program director for the center, their operational budget of $150,000 – that has not been met – includes salaries for three employees and any and all bills – telephone, gas, electric, insurance, equipment, supplies, etc.
This amount, she said, had come from Seminerio.
“We’re really bad right now,” she said. “I’m on my last grant, and I’m really stretching it.”
Bachert told The Courier that, thanks to member items from Assemblymembers Nettie Mayersohn and Rory Lancman, the center’s computer, technology and videoconferencing program, as well as the summer camp and the fall session of the Mommy and Me program, are safe and will continue.
However, the money to pay the bills – and the three salaries – is fast diminishing.
“We’re probably going to have to tap into our administrative account, which is like a nest egg,” continued Bachert. “I only have enough for one more payroll.”
Additionally, she said, the city’s Department of Youth & Community Development (DYCD) still owes the center $11,500 from last year. The DYDC grant ended at the end of June, said Bachert, but she only managed to register last week.
“I have to resubmit all my bills to get paid on some that go back pretty far,” she said.
Other community groups don’t seem to be faring much better.
Maria Thomson of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation (GWDC) and the Woodhaven Residents Block Association (WRBA) told The Courier that “It’s going to be tough for the next few months.”
She explained that the groups had been getting funding from Seminerio, and that “Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver took the monies . . . none of the groups got that money back [after Seminerio’s plea].”
“It was wrong to freeze the funding or wipe it out,” said Senator Joseph Addabbo. “To victimize these non-profits is unfair.”
On September 15, Democrat Mike Miller won the Special Election to fill Seminerio’s seat, and many groups are looking to him to help restore funding.
However, Michael Simanowitz, chief of staff for Mayersohn, told The Courier that “Miller is a freshman Assemblymember who won’t be getting the kinds of allocations that Seminerio had been getting. Tony was a senior Assemblymember with a significant pot of money. He was able to secure a lot . . . with him leaving we are forced to look elsewhere.”
Calls to Miller were not returned as of press time.
Addabbo went on to explain further that the Assembly has not yet voted on the appropriations, so “we’re looking at [sometime] in October.”
“I wasn’t given the same amount of money as [former Senator Serphin] Maltese, plus we had to do cuts,” continued Addabbo. “But since the budget in April or May I have gone back to my leadership to restore the cuts to the groups.”
Additionally, Simanowitz said that Mayersohn has been trying to secure money from Silver and Governor David Paterson to help the various organizations.
However, because of an emergency grant from Maltese, Donna Marie Caltabiano of the Forest Park Senior Center – who challenged Miller in the Special Election – said that her organization is “good until June.”
“For the first time in 14 years I was able to cash my paycheck in the summer,” she said.
The center, with a $200,000 a year operational budget, has sustained a 30 percent cut in funding, and the money Seminerio had allocated paid the rent. This, said Caltabiano, ended on September 30.
She went on to tell The Courier that she was informed that the 38th Assembly District will not be getting any member items.
“I hope Mike Miller will be able to get money,” she said.
“Mike will have to fight for that money if it’s available,” said Thomson. “We’d appreciate it if he goes after that money and brings it back to our community groups. He committed to us that he’d do everything he can to get that money back.”
Addabbo, for his part, is optimistic that funds will be restored.
“If we got that money we’d be OK,” said Bachert.