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Weprin says projects will fly

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Phil Corso

Residents of northeast Queens have nothing to worry about after voting on how to spend $1 million for community projects, their City Councilman Mark Weprin said, despite a bribery case against a neighboring councilman leaving budget items in limbo.

Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), wrapped up the months-long process in which residents voted on how he should allocate his discretionary funds with a results party last week, announcing which of 13 proposals were to receive the Council’s discretionary dollars. Weprin’s district covers an area stretching from Douglaston to Queens Village to Hollis and Fresh Meadows.

The six winning projects included $40,000 in new emergency equipment for the Glen Oaks Volunteer Ambulance Corps, $35,000 in roof repairs for the Queens County Farm Museum, $129,000 technology upgrades at Martin Van Buren High School, $100,000 portable NYPD security cameras and a $300,000 music stage and $375,000 picnic area upgrades at Cunningham Park.

Weprin said he hoped to see all six projects completed by next year to show the 1,116 residents who voted that their voices were heard.

The councilman said he would include the six projects, which add up to $1 million in capital funding, as the top priorities in his budget requests. The money would then hopefully be doled out near the end of June, he said.

But as the votes were cast in Weprin’s district, Councilman Dan Halloran (D-Whitestone) was arrested on charges of using bribery to rig the upcoming mayoral election to get state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) on the GOP ballot .

Halloran, who had also spent months with his constituents setting up the participatory budgeting vote, was stripped of his Council committee assignments and barred from touching any of his discretionary funds, which were put into the hands of Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan). A spokeswoman for Quinn said all funding decisions in Halloran’s district will be made through the Speaker in consultation with the Queens delegation chair.

“It is certain that I will have this money put into the budget,” Weprin said. “How quickly, I cannot guarantee. But this will be the first $1 million I am requesting. That is the plan.”

Some skepticism over the Council’s commitment to adhering to the so-called participatory budgeting results arose after the scandal swept through the district next door in northeast Queens.

Andrew Rocco, president of the College Point Civic Association, worked closely with Halloran during the entire process, pushing for things like the structural restoration of the Poppenhusen Institute and the rehabilitation of MacNeil Park, both of which were winning projects.

Now with that money up in the air, he said his entire community was on edge.

“We are dependent on this discretionary funding,” Rocco said. “It’s so important that the Council does the right thing.”

When asked if she would honor the participatory budgeting vote in Halloran’s district, Quinn said while she would take the 1,170 votes into consideration, the results were not binding.

Weprin, however, assured that his district’s votes would count. Every year, the councilman said he typically receives somewhere around $3 million in discretionary funding for his district, and the participatory budgeting winners will be the first to be spent. So as long as Weprin receives at least $1 million in capital funding, he promised the six projects would see the money.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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