Boro leaders back budget proposals

By Bill Parry

Melinda Katz and her staff received unanimous support among the borough’s leadership for her initial budget proposal as the new borough president. The leadership group, known as the Queens Borough Board, is comprised of all 11 Community Board leaders and all 14 of the City Council members from the county.

At the Monday meeting at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens, each leader reviewed the 127-page copy of the budget. “The mayor not giving the annual budget dance was helpful — I wondered why it was so thin,” said Katz referring to the annual tug of war that was fought with the Bloomberg administration and produced voluminous pages.

Queens Budget Director Richard Lee proceeded to review the most important elements of the Queens portion of Mayor de Blasio’s $73.712 billion financial plan for the city in fiscal year 2015. It includes the restoration of critical services across various agencies that were slashed during the last administration as well as several new initiatives like the expansion of after-school programs and universal pre-kindergarten.

Katz pointed out that Queens has special needs because it leads the five boroughs with 48 percent of the residents now foreign-born, which requires a wider range of social service support and language access to the city’s services. She also said Queens is home to one of the fastest growing aging populations, which brings other multi-faceted challenges.

The meeting’s most spirited exchange came with the discussion about the funding disparity between the boroughs. “Not that it’s a pet peeve of mine, but let me point out that Queens receives less funding per capita at only $2.09 per person,” Katz said. By comparison, the Bronx gets $3.76 per person.

Jerry Iannece, the outgoing chairman of Community Board 11, said he has been arguing that point for the last decade. “We are getting shortchanged by the city budget and while I commend the borough president and her staff for their presentation, we must make a stronger case on disparity,” Iannece said. “We generate such a big chunk of money to the city coffers with real estate taxes and all the airport revenue, we need to get more back.”

Katz broke with tradition by not listing her priority funding choices but said she will announce that in two weeks. The budget will be submitted to the city officially March 24.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718.260.4538.

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