At Budget Hearings, Marshall Believes Queens ‘Shortchanged’
Borough President Helen Marshall said she understands that during these difficult fiscal times cutbacks are necessary, in her borough as well as elsewhere. But, she said at the annual public hearing concerning capital and expense budgets held at Borough Hall February 23, she also believes Queens is being shortchanged.
Some 60 speakers, representing 14 community boards and nearly every college and community college, arts group, hospital and health group, social services agency and museum that the borough contains, along with Queens Borough Public Library officials, also testified at the hearings.
The borough president’s understanding of cutbacks encompasses a realization that thousands of teachers will be dismissed; several firehouses will close; the library will take a significant cut this fiscal year and a larger one next, and in the meantime has stopped buying books; programs for the aid of both children and the aged will be shrunk, and parks improvements will be lamented for their lack. Out of that partial list of funds reduction and from lists unmentioned she would like to take back some small amounts that she believes Queens deserves.
It is the duty of their district managers to speak for community boards at budget meetings. At the February meeting, they came to the rostrum in numerical order, so the first was Lucille Hartmann of Community Board 1. She said that chief among the concerns of her board is the seawall along the East River, and anyone who has seen it slowly fall into the water beneath the Queensboro Bridge for years and years knows what she means. A parking lot at Astoria Boulevard and 35th Street is needed for everyone from commuters to 114th Precinct police officers, she said, and local curb reconstruction has been stalled as long as has seawall repair. Debbie Markell-Kleinert of Community Board 2 began by giving thanks that the Queens West Library is to be built on Parcel 8 in Hunters Point, but went on to say that repair of catch basins and sewers in her district has been delayed repeatedly. Construction of a new 108th Precinct headquarters building is certain to occur only in her dreams, but the problem of 44-02 Vernon Blvd. is of great urgency. This huge excavation next to the Con Edison Learning Center was abandoned when the developer went bankrupt, and now stands, filling with water. Markell-Kleinert said the Department of Housing Preservation and Development should seize it, with an eye to building affordable apartments there.
Giovanna Reid of Community Board 3 observed that her district (Jackson Heights, Corona, East Elmhurst), with a population of 200,000, has a large number of recent immigrants. As far as schools are concerned, “our chief objective is additional seats”, she said, adding her gratitude for the addition of I.S. 230 on Northern Boulevard, between 110th and 111th Streets. She said the local libraries are “totally overused”, and funds for the Jackson Heights branch must be restored. Richard Italiano of Community Board 4 said the problem of flooding and sewers inadequate to handle it is of grave importance in his district, as it is for Board 5’s Gary Giordano, who said they are collapsing in Maspeth, Glendale and Ridgewood. Giordano said he has toned down his fiscal requests lately but still insists that the 104th Precinct’s current strength of 152 officers should be more like 170. He added that closing a firehouse in a district full of wood frame houses is a dangerous way to save money. He described the Glendale Library as an underfunded “stepchild” lacking accessibility for the handicapped. Frank Gulliscio of Board 6, covering Kew Gardens, Forest Hills and Rego Park, said that the special study of Woodhaven Boulevard, a thoroughfare affecting five districts (Boards 4, 5, 6, 9 and 10) has been proceeding too long and should be completed. He said the new Bob’s Discount Furniture at 72-25 Woodhaven Blvd., where Woodhaven Lanes bowling used to be, is welcome as an enterprise but the consequent traffic increase needs better management.
Fear of fires and floods bothered several of the remaining district managers, especially when they considered their dilapidated sewers and shuttered firehouses. Libraries, they said, should be built or refurbished, not closed for half the week. Sea walls besides that in Board 1 are deteriorating; and in Board 14 on Beach Channel Drive, the bulkheads are gone and water from Jamaica Bay is getting under the roadway, while in Bayswater it is said to reach residential lawns when the moon is full. Susan Seinfeld of Board 11 mentioned a shore road in Douglaston that she said is “falling into the bay”. Work goes uncompleted on island malls in the middle of 111th Street, while island malls on Union Turnpike have rebars sticking out of them.
Who can pay to have these things completed or repaired? Regarding run down medians and a carousel in Forest Park, Board 9’s Mary Ann Carey said she has thought of turning to Donald Trump for help. She even suggested she might ask him to subsidize restoration of Frederick Macmonnies’s “Civic Virtue,” the marble statue beside Borough Hall in bad shape after 90 years outdoors. Councilmember Karen Koslowitz interrupted to say that restorations would cost $20 million. (Congressmember Anthony Weiner, not an admirer of the statue, on the following day suggested that it be sold on Craigslist and removed.)
Representatives of the many institutions that followed specified the amounts they needed and the related projects. Queensborough Community College needs $1.7 million toward repair of its Humanities Theater. CUNY Law School will move into a new home next year at 2 Court Square in Long Island City, but needs $864,000 to furnish all its classrooms with audio/visual equipment. Queens Theatre in the Park needs $400,000 to refurbish its lobby and other parts of the building. Queens Botanical Garden needs $1 million to repave its cobblestones and an unstated amount to replace its parking lot blacktop with permeable pavement. Mount Sinai Queens needs $177,206 to equip a state-of-the-art ultrasound suite. Peninsula Hospital needs $132,000 for a digital mammography system to supplement its older analog system. Make the Road New York needs $3 million toward moving into a Center for Immigrant Opportunity in an old church in Jackson Heights, near where immigrant laborers constantly gather in search of day work. Services Now for Adult Persons (SNAP) spokesperson Marian Lewek said that while SNAP provides “the best food in any senior center”, more than $130,000 is needed for three new vans to replace vehicles that date from another century. Tom Finkelpearl of the Queens Museum, like others, moderated requests his institution might otherwise have made in acknowledgment of the economic recession.