By Phil Corso
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) announced an agreement for an on-time, $68.5 billion balanced budget Monday evening, bringing a sigh of relief to firehouses, libraries and schools worried about their financial standing.
The announcement puts an end to speculation that 20 FDNY companies, including Engine Co. 306 in Bayside, 294 in Richmond Hill and 328 in Far Rockaway, were considered for closure along with potential after-school programs like the coveted Beacon programs through the Samuel Field Y in Little Neck at MS 158 and the Forest Hills’ Queens Community House at JHS 190.
“The threat of losing Engine 306 really was frightening,” said Bayside native and Uniformed Fire Officers Association President Al Hagan. “We are definitely happy. I find both the City Council and the mayor’s willingness to save the firehouses to be a very encouraging sign.”
The budget will not raise taxes or lay off any teachers, the mayor said. It remained balanced through the use of “prudently saved prior-year resources, billions in agency savings actions and increased revenues from strong growth in the tech, film and television, tourism and higher education sectors,” the mayor’s office said.
“Working with our partners in the Council, we’ve again produced an on-time, balanced budget for our city that doesn’t raise taxes on New Yorkers, and that preserves the essential services that keep our city strong,” Bloomberg said. “When times were better, the city set aside surplus revenue — and when the first storm clouds gathered in 2007, we began cutting budgets. These actions — and our work over the past decade to diversify the economy and make it less reliant on Wall Street — have allowed us to avoid the severe service cuts that many other cities are facing.”
The Council will vote on the budget agreement this week and, if passed, it will be the 11th consecutive year Bloomberg and the Council close an on-time and balanced budget.
Threatened cuts to Queens Library service and staff were also averted, restoring nearly $90 million of a proposed $96 million cut to libraries citywide, Queens Library President and CEO Thomas Galante said.
“This good budget agreement will long be remembered as the ‘children and families’ budget,” City Councilman James F. Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) said. “Daycare, early childhood education and after-school programs were prioritized during the budget process due to the leadership of Speaker Quinn, and these programs – most fortunately for middle class families – are stronger than ever despite this very tough budget year.”
Quinn said the Council kept education a top priority in the negotiations.
“Working parents need to have their children protected and cared for while they are at work. Children need to receive a high-quality educational experience at an early age. We are creating a program that responds to both of these needs,” Quinn said. “We are saying that childcare can and must be part of a lifelong education that continues with pre-K through kindergarten and that ultimately leads to every child graduating high school ready for college.”
State Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) said he felt more confident in the Council’s ability to restore funding to the 20 FDNY companies, but was still pleasantly surprised to see educational programs also taken off the chopping block.
“It seems like every year they put firehouses on the block,” Braunstein said. “Even though we’ve seen it happen before, it is still scary. I see it as more of a relief than anything.”
Both Braunstein and Hagan said they were thankful for Quinn’s efforts in the Council to save the essential services.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.