Libraries and cops among de Blasio’s bargaining chips for budget negotiations

By Tom Momberg

Mayor Bill de Blasio has unveiled his $78.3 billion executive budget for the 2016 fiscal year, along with an $83.8 billion, 10-year capital strategy that is setting aside some extra money for Queens, including $1.2 billion for a flood-mitigation plan in the southwestern part of the borough.

The 2016 spending plan is a half-billion dollars more than the preliminary budget de Blasio introduced in January, but it does not include money to hire additional police, despite a big push by the City Council to expand NYPD’s force and increase foot patrols.

The increase to the next fiscal year’s budget can mostly be attributed to the creation of an unprecedented Capital Stabilization Reserve, with an initial $500 million to protect the city’s ability to invest in infrastructure and capital needs during potential crises or economic downturns. The General Reserve Fund would also be increased to $1 billion a year under the plan.

“We want to make sure we have the cash on hand to deal with the downturn that might come on very suddenly,” de Blasio said during a news conference last Friday. “And recent history, both in terms of the Great Recession, and in terms of the events that plague this city and the challenges that plagued us after 9/11, indicate how quickly a crisis can come on and why having those reserves is so important.”

The City Council must adopt the budget by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30, so the bottom line may look different by then. The mayor’s bargaining chips in negotiating with City Council include the 1,000 new police officers Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has asked for, as well as funding for libraries.

De Blasio touted a $300 million increase in city funding to libraries, but that also included about $10 million in cuts from the three main New York Public Library branches’ operating budgets. The operating budget for city libraries would be $65 million lower than it was in 2008.

“We appreciate Mayor de Blasio’s much needed investment in upgrading library facilities, and that libraries are included in the city’s 10-year capital plan for the first time,” Queens Library Interim President and CEO Bridget Quinn-Carey said in a statement. “Our annual operating budget, however, is what funds hours of service, staff, collections and public access to technology … We need a complete $65 million restoration of our operating budget, to give Queens residents access to their local library on the weekends, a critical time for working families, as well to provide additional programs and books.”

Aside from cops and libraries, the executive budget includes extra funding for the Mayor’s Renewal Schools Program, funding for homeless prevention and shelter improvements, as well as $36.4 million for the Department of Correction and a 14-point anti-violence plan for Rikers Island.

In addition to funding for the flood-mitigation plan, there are other significant advantages for Queens laid out in the proposed budget.

The city is also planning to return 40 percent of the proposed rental payment for the water system to the Department of Environmental Protection. The capital strategy plans to return $81 million to the system in the next fiscal year alone. This will mean a reduction in the proposed water rate increase.

The city water board voted on a proposed 3.24 percent water rate increase last month, which had several Queens Council members frustrated. But because the DEP rents the water system from the city and bases the water rate on the price of rent, the new rate increase will be lowered to 2.97 percent as the city returns its rental payment.

The Mayor’s capital plan is also setting aside a $657 million increase to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for its Five-Year Capital Program, the major investments of which include no developments in Queens. But $12.6 billion is being set aside to grow transportation infrastructure, including $7.8 billion to restore and rehabilitate bridges.

About $13.5 billion of the spending plan is being allocated for the city Department of Education’s Five-Year Capital Plan, including a $3.3 billion investment to ramp up capacity at 57 city school buildings. The plan also plans to renovate and repair almost 50 schools in Queens between this year and 2019.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.