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Photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office
Photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and New York City Council Finance Chair Daniel Dromm hold a media availability to announce an agreement on an early, balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2019 in the rotunda at City Hall on Monday, June 11, 2018.

Updated on June 20 at 2 p.m.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson shook hands on the largest budget deal in history last week, and the $89.2 billion for fiscal year 2019 is trickling down to set new records on the local level as well.

In his first budget negotiation, Councilman Robert Holden said District 30 is receiving all-time highs of $7.4 million in capital funding along with an additional $2.85 million from the borough president’s office and more than $2 million in expense funding. While improving all of the schools in his district remains a priority for Holden, his history of civic leadership had an obvious influence on how he plans to use the money as well.

When he broke down his plan for QNS on June 19, Holden said he “couldn’t be happier” with the outcome and gave credit to his chief of staff, Greg Mitchell, for his expertise in maximizing their budget.

We advocated for things we can control and money we can allocate,” Holden said. “I made sure everything we asked for we can kind of see a direct result in the investment.”

For the former college professor, that means giving technology upgrades to all 20 of the schools in his district, as well as addressing construction issues at some schools that are struggling more than others. At P.S. 87 in Middle Village, for example, Holden said that a small cafeteria and even smaller kitchen will be seeing a “big upgrade.” Other schools throughout the district will also see improvements to their auditoriums, cafeterias and air conditioning.

While expenses in the district will exceed $2 million, Holden said, that money will go toward more than 100 local groups and programs including new initiatives that “weren’t tapped into before.”

One program Holden is especially proud of is a service that will help senior citizens with landscaping, snow shoveling and other household tasks that they may need help with as they age. According to the Department of City Planning, 12.5 percent of the population in Ridgewood, Glendale, Maspeth and Middle Village is age 65 or older.

More money will also go toward senior centers, youth centers, after-school programs, civic associations, volunteer ambulance corps and sports leagues. In addition, a revamped effort to clean up graffiti and provide more regular cleanups of commercial areas is “a big thing I’m proud of,” Holden said.

Maspeth Town Hall and the Onderdonk House will also receive badly needed upgrades, Holden said, to deal with problems like water seepage in the old structures.

Increased capital funding will provide new camera equipment for the 102nd and 104th precincts as well as the local fire houses, all terrain vehicles for the police and parks departments and a tractor for the parks department. Holden also said that he has $2.25 million to put toward renovating the flood-prone baseball fields at Juniper Valley Park, but he doesn’t know how many fields they will end up working on.

The councilman originally wanted to put that money toward fixing the tennis courts at Forest Park, but the Parks Department told him that all of the courts would have to be renovated even though half of them were already fixed in the past decade, Holden said.

Still, Holden is disappointed that the city budget failed to address property tax rebates and transportation issues for New Yorkers in transportation deserts who have to pay more just to get around. Especially because, as Holden put it, property taxes are “the engine that funds the city” and partially allowed the budget to grow so large.

Unfortunately much of that money is from the backs of property owners, and Queens pays more than their fair share,” Holden said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t get people calling and saying ‘I can’t afford the property tax.'”

Holden said that he and other Council members are organizing a rally in front of City Hall on June 28 to address property tax relief for small business owners, and the Council and mayor’s office are creating a task force to figure out how to better assess property values.

With transportation, Holden said he has made it his goal to get an express bus route in Maspeth, but he has not been pleased with the way the Department of Transportation (DOT) has addressed some of his other concerns since he took office.

We’re trying to get the MTA to consider that, it’s a natural route and should be easy to figure out,” Holden said. “I’m finding that DOT has been very slow to even acknowledge they had a problem with Woodhaven Boulevard, and I had to point it out over several months.”

The city budget did, however, offer $106 million for a ‘Fair Fares’ program that will provide a subsidy for MetroCards for people living below the federal poverty level.

Frustrations aside, Holden has been in office for six months now and said he doesn’t think he and his staff could have done any better. While he is happy with the way he has transitioned from civics to politics and is proud of the innovative things he is trying, he knows that he is always fueled by his past.

“I take this job seriously, I’m not in it for fame or glory or recognition,” Holden said. “I do approach it as a civic leader, and that’s why the transition hasn’t been difficult for me. I’m just probably more effective now.”

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Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. June 22, 2018 / 05:36PM
After a couple of years of major citywide advocacy by one organization and several years of policy by another organization, Fair Fares becomes a reality. I'm so proud.
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