Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/city-budget 2019-04-24T10:32:37+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Little-Used Community Land Trust Model for Affordable Housing May See Big Boost 2019-04-17T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-17T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8458-little-used-community-land-trust-model-for-affordable-housing-may-see-big-boost Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/28624860508_bc408a174d_z.jpg" alt="Carlina Rivera City Council rally housing" width="600" height="388" /></p> <p>Council Member Rivera (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Manhattan City Council Member Carlina Rivera is part of a growing coalition of Council members pushing for city government's first major commitment to a seldom-utilized affordable housing model. In the face of rapid gentrification, they say, the city should invest $850,000 in Community Land Trusts, or CLTs, in the city budget currently being negotiated.</p> <p>Doing so could help advocates and nonprofits acquire land to operate deeply affordable housing and amenities -- albeit on a small scale -- in perpetuity.</p> <p>“They're not a silver bullet but should be a major component of any affordable housing plan,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. Other allies include Queens Council Member Donovan Richards and Manhattan Council Member Margaret Chin.</p> <p>A Community Land Trust is a nonprofit that acquires and manages land, either one continuous plot or scattered sites. People who live and work on the land collectively set the terms of use, and can mix residential and commercial space with community centers and gardens. Most CLTs prohibit their properties from ever being sold for profit, ensuring affordability in the long term.</p> <p>There are currently 11 community-based organizations with CLT projects underway across the five boroughs. Though several are still in early planning stages, groups hope to ultimately control thousands of housing units and hundreds of small businesses citywide.</p> <p>A new $8 million bank settlement from Attorney General Letitia James is also being parceled out this spring to land trust projects across the state. Municipalities can apply for up to $2.5 million each. “The interest in CLTs has expanded a lot,” said Elizabeth Zeldin, director of Enterprise Community Partners, which is distributing the funds.</p> <p>New York City’s oldest CLT model, the <a href="http://csmha.org/wordpress/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association</a>, is in Council Member Rivera’s district. It has grown to nearly 400 apartments and 20 small businesses since its formation in 1994 (including one of Rivera’s personal favorites, Pageant Print Shop, which sells antique prints and maps). “I think we have to plant seeds for these CLTs to grow,” she said. “They can ward off mass speculation of developers, like happened in Cooper Square.”</p> <p>With citywide elections on the horizon in 2021, “Every front-runner in every office race should be discussing this as part of their affordable housing platform,” Rivera said.</p> <p>Rivera’s spokesperson, Jeremy Unger, told Gotham Gazette that “the Councilwoman is planning a Council briefing on CLTs” and will be discussing the model during internal deliberations as the Council prepares to negotiate with the mayor’s office.</p> <p>“We look forward to working with the City Council throughout the budget process and will evaluate the proposal from CLTs,” de Blasio spokesperson Raul Contreras said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. (The Council recently held a month of preliminary budget hearings, then issued <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8443-city-council-response-de-blasio-budget-calling-for-investments-in-workers-ferries-thrive-nyc" target="_blank">its official response</a> to the mayor’s initial budget plan for fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1.)</p> <p>Barriers to CLT expansion include limited funding for housing development and renovation, and limited access to viable land. The model stands in contrast to <a href="http://gothamist.com/2017/07/13/affordable_housing_nyc_de_blasio.php">de Blasio's 300,000-unit affordable housing plan</a>, which predominantly enlists large for-profit developers to construct and preserve mixed-income housing on a large scale.</p> <p>Council members have contributed to individual land trusts in their districts over the years. But the $850,000 ask would contribute to a broader project, organizers say, covering hiring costs for one staff member for each community group currently developing a land trust, plus technical and legal assistance.</p> <p>With this funding, says Deyanira Del Rio, co-director of the New Economy Project and board chair of the New York City Community Land Initiative,&nbsp;CLTs can "deepen the organizing, education, and partnership development," so they can acquire and rehab properties down the road.</p> <p>Del Rio draws a comparison to the city’s <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/nycbusiness/article/worker-cooperatives" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative</a>, which has seen worker-run businesses <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/sbs/downloads/pdf/about/reports/worker_coop_report_fy18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">more than double</a> from 21 to 48 since the City Council started funding it four years ago.</p> <p>The <a href="http://ehebclt.nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">East Harlem El Barrio CLT</a>, one of the more established in the bunch, is currently closing on a portfolio of four residential buildings in East Harlem with 36 apartments among them. The buildings are in poor condition, and the CLT is negotiating additional preservation assistance from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).</p> <p>“With the Second Avenue Subway coming through,” says El Barrio project coordinator Athena Bernkopf, “there are concerns about what that will do to the housing and economic landscape.” Ultimately, the CLT hopes to add more buildings “facing immediate gentrification pressure.”</p> <p>Other CLTS are in earlier planning stages. Chhaya CDC, a non-profit serving the city’s South Asian Community in Queens, hopes to establish a land trust in Jackson Heights to manage affordable community space and shops. While <a href="https://caaav.org/about-us">CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities</a> envisions a land trust in Chinatown with affordable senior housing and storefronts for immigrant-owned businesses.</p> <p>HPD began working with affordable housing groups and nonprofit developers to study the viability of CLTs in the summer of 2017, distributing <a href="http://gothamist.com/2017/08/04/community_land_trust.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a $1.65 million grant </a>from a $3.5 million bank settlement from then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Part of that initial funding covered a two-year program called the <a href="https://www.neweconomynyc.org/our-work/campaigns/advancing-clts/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYC CLT Learning Exchange</a>, organized by the New Economy Project, where community groups met regularly to learn about the model.</p> <p>Now, says City College of New York Political Science Professor John Krinsky, groups will begin to delve into the inevitable challenges of working together to decide how a piece of land will be used and operated. For example, “What are the tradeoffs when we are thinking about financing and affordability, and what that means in the long term?”</p> <p>Down the road, advocates are hopeful that New York City will establish a pipeline of land for CLTs, and more long-term financing tools to support extremely low-income households. “I think we have to be looking at vacant lots,” Council Member Rivera told Gotham Gazette. While the city’s reserve of such lots has been dwindling over decades, there are still dozens that can be utilized for housing, with <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7475-comptroller-again-calls-out-city-on-vacant-land-city-again-punches-back" target="_blank">many in the pipeline</a> for development through HPD.</p> <p>Oksana Mironova is a housing policy analyst at the Community Service Society, and helps facilitate the New York City Community Land Initiative's policy work. She’s hopeful that the ongoing collaboration between various CLTs will help ensure that they don’t become affordable islands in gentrifying neighborhoods. Cooper Square, for example, organizes with neighboring tenants at risk of displacement.</p> <p>“There’s a way to do CLTs where they become a sort of oasis that only benefits the people who live on the CLT,” she said. “But then there’s a way to make CLTs that are benefiting not just the people who live on the CLTs…that take a bigger look.”</p> <p>

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by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/28624860508_bc408a174d_z.jpg" alt="Carlina Rivera City Council rally housing" width="600" height="388" /></p> <p>Council Member Rivera (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Manhattan City Council Member Carlina Rivera is part of a growing coalition of Council members pushing for city government's first major commitment to a seldom-utilized affordable housing model. In the face of rapid gentrification, they say, the city should invest $850,000 in Community Land Trusts, or CLTs, in the city budget currently being negotiated.</p> <p>Doing so could help advocates and nonprofits acquire land to operate deeply affordable housing and amenities -- albeit on a small scale -- in perpetuity.</p> <p>“They're not a silver bullet but should be a major component of any affordable housing plan,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. Other allies include Queens Council Member Donovan Richards and Manhattan Council Member Margaret Chin.</p> <p>A Community Land Trust is a nonprofit that acquires and manages land, either one continuous plot or scattered sites. People who live and work on the land collectively set the terms of use, and can mix residential and commercial space with community centers and gardens. Most CLTs prohibit their properties from ever being sold for profit, ensuring affordability in the long term.</p> <p>There are currently 11 community-based organizations with CLT projects underway across the five boroughs. Though several are still in early planning stages, groups hope to ultimately control thousands of housing units and hundreds of small businesses citywide.</p> <p>A new $8 million bank settlement from Attorney General Letitia James is also being parceled out this spring to land trust projects across the state. Municipalities can apply for up to $2.5 million each. “The interest in CLTs has expanded a lot,” said Elizabeth Zeldin, director of Enterprise Community Partners, which is distributing the funds.</p> <p>New York City’s oldest CLT model, the <a href="http://csmha.org/wordpress/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association</a>, is in Council Member Rivera’s district. It has grown to nearly 400 apartments and 20 small businesses since its formation in 1994 (including one of Rivera’s personal favorites, Pageant Print Shop, which sells antique prints and maps). “I think we have to plant seeds for these CLTs to grow,” she said. “They can ward off mass speculation of developers, like happened in Cooper Square.”</p> <p>With citywide elections on the horizon in 2021, “Every front-runner in every office race should be discussing this as part of their affordable housing platform,” Rivera said.</p> <p>Rivera’s spokesperson, Jeremy Unger, told Gotham Gazette that “the Councilwoman is planning a Council briefing on CLTs” and will be discussing the model during internal deliberations as the Council prepares to negotiate with the mayor’s office.</p> <p>“We look forward to working with the City Council throughout the budget process and will evaluate the proposal from CLTs,” de Blasio spokesperson Raul Contreras said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. (The Council recently held a month of preliminary budget hearings, then issued <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8443-city-council-response-de-blasio-budget-calling-for-investments-in-workers-ferries-thrive-nyc" target="_blank">its official response</a> to the mayor’s initial budget plan for fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1.)</p> <p>Barriers to CLT expansion include limited funding for housing development and renovation, and limited access to viable land. The model stands in contrast to <a href="http://gothamist.com/2017/07/13/affordable_housing_nyc_de_blasio.php">de Blasio's 300,000-unit affordable housing plan</a>, which predominantly enlists large for-profit developers to construct and preserve mixed-income housing on a large scale.</p> <p>Council members have contributed to individual land trusts in their districts over the years. But the $850,000 ask would contribute to a broader project, organizers say, covering hiring costs for one staff member for each community group currently developing a land trust, plus technical and legal assistance.</p> <p>With this funding, says Deyanira Del Rio, co-director of the New Economy Project and board chair of the New York City Community Land Initiative,&nbsp;CLTs can "deepen the organizing, education, and partnership development," so they can acquire and rehab properties down the road.</p> <p>Del Rio draws a comparison to the city’s <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/nycbusiness/article/worker-cooperatives" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative</a>, which has seen worker-run businesses <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/sbs/downloads/pdf/about/reports/worker_coop_report_fy18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">more than double</a> from 21 to 48 since the City Council started funding it four years ago.</p> <p>The <a href="http://ehebclt.nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">East Harlem El Barrio CLT</a>, one of the more established in the bunch, is currently closing on a portfolio of four residential buildings in East Harlem with 36 apartments among them. The buildings are in poor condition, and the CLT is negotiating additional preservation assistance from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).</p> <p>“With the Second Avenue Subway coming through,” says El Barrio project coordinator Athena Bernkopf, “there are concerns about what that will do to the housing and economic landscape.” Ultimately, the CLT hopes to add more buildings “facing immediate gentrification pressure.”</p> <p>Other CLTS are in earlier planning stages. Chhaya CDC, a non-profit serving the city’s South Asian Community in Queens, hopes to establish a land trust in Jackson Heights to manage affordable community space and shops. While <a href="https://caaav.org/about-us">CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities</a> envisions a land trust in Chinatown with affordable senior housing and storefronts for immigrant-owned businesses.</p> <p>HPD began working with affordable housing groups and nonprofit developers to study the viability of CLTs in the summer of 2017, distributing <a href="http://gothamist.com/2017/08/04/community_land_trust.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a $1.65 million grant </a>from a $3.5 million bank settlement from then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Part of that initial funding covered a two-year program called the <a href="https://www.neweconomynyc.org/our-work/campaigns/advancing-clts/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYC CLT Learning Exchange</a>, organized by the New Economy Project, where community groups met regularly to learn about the model.</p> <p>Now, says City College of New York Political Science Professor John Krinsky, groups will begin to delve into the inevitable challenges of working together to decide how a piece of land will be used and operated. For example, “What are the tradeoffs when we are thinking about financing and affordability, and what that means in the long term?”</p> <p>Down the road, advocates are hopeful that New York City will establish a pipeline of land for CLTs, and more long-term financing tools to support extremely low-income households. “I think we have to be looking at vacant lots,” Council Member Rivera told Gotham Gazette. While the city’s reserve of such lots has been dwindling over decades, there are still dozens that can be utilized for housing, with <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7475-comptroller-again-calls-out-city-on-vacant-land-city-again-punches-back" target="_blank">many in the pipeline</a> for development through HPD.</p> <p>Oksana Mironova is a housing policy analyst at the Community Service Society, and helps facilitate the New York City Community Land Initiative's policy work. She’s hopeful that the ongoing collaboration between various CLTs will help ensure that they don’t become affordable islands in gentrifying neighborhoods. Cooper Square, for example, organizes with neighboring tenants at risk of displacement.</p> <p>“There’s a way to do CLTs where they become a sort of oasis that only benefits the people who live on the CLT,” she said. “But then there’s a way to make CLTs that are benefiting not just the people who live on the CLTs…that take a bigger look.”</p> <p>

***
by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

</p>
As Early Childhood Educators Consider Strike, New York City Must Achieve Pay Parity 2019-04-16T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8454-as-early-childhood-educators-consider-strike-new-york-city-must-achieve-pay-parity Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-firstday.jpg" alt="mayor firstday" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>We know now, more than ever, just how malleable the mind of a young child is, and we understand that the earlier we begin engaging a child’s mind, the better off that child will be. Early childhood education can positively impact the academic, social, and emotional development of children, while providing much-needed financial relief for our city’s low-income families with children, for whom child care is a major expense.</p> <p>Our city recognizes the significance early childhood education has, both for children and families. Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to investing in and expanding his Universal Pre-K and 3-K initiatives is proof of that, and we wholeheartedly support these programs because they help level the playing field for some of our city’s most vulnerable families.</p> <p>Yet it is unconscionable that while the programs continue to grow, City Hall has failed to address a significant inequity that threatens the very success of the initiatives – the fair pay of teachers. Our children deserve the best opportunities we can give them, and in order for that to happen, we need to fairly compensate those who dedicate themselves to caring for our children and providing that critical, quality early education.</p> <p>Most of the children who are currently enrolled in the Universal Pre-K program attend programs offered by community-based organizations (CBOs), where early childhood educators are rightfully fighting for wage parity that can help level the playing field for them and their families, as well. CBO-based pre-K teachers with bachelor’s degrees earn significantly less than their counterparts with the Department of Education (DOE) -- and often work more hours for a longer school year.</p> <p>A CBO-based certified teacher with five years of experience makes approximately $42,000, while DOE counterparts with the same credentials earn closer to $60,000. The gap in salary widens over time — nearly doubling at 10 years of experience. A DOE pre-K teacher with a master’s degree and 20 years of experience can earn as much as $91,000 annually, while a CBO-based teacher with identical credentials can max out at approximately $50,000.</p> <p>The same job responsibilities, the same experience, and the same qualifications for significantly less money. It’s not right, and it isn’t fair.</p> <p>It’s no surprise that many CBO-based early childhood programs struggle to hold on to quality educators. Wage disparity demoralizes educators at CBOs -- many of whom are women of color -- and puts them in the unfair position of having to choose between the work they have passionately dedicated their lives to and caring for their own families. How can we expect our children to be properly educated and cared for if those tasked with that responsibility aren’t provided with the resources to do the same for their own?</p> <p>Many of these educators are forced to look elsewhere for employment as a result, and that frequent turnover can have a destabilizing effect on the development of a young child’s mind. The longer we continue to drastically underpay non-DOE early childhood educators, the likelier it becomes that more and more of the early childhood programs that so many of our city’s families rely on will be forced to close their doors.</p> <p>In the City Council, we pushed for funding for pay parity to be a part of the fiscal year 2019 budget, following a summer hearing on the Early Learn transition to DOE. At the hearing, we made it clear that pay parity needed to be addressed, but the de Blasio administration failed to see the same urgency, instead promising that the issue will be resolved during contract negotiations. That still has not happened and the mayor is out of time.</p> <p>When the administration released a new round of contracts for early childhood services, it failed to include the increased funding that community providers were looking for, making clear that there is a lack of urgency or interest in addressing this problem. We need real solutions, not gestures.</p> <p>The City Council just released its response to the mayor’s fiscal year 2020 preliminary budget proposal, and under the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson, we are specifically calling on the mayor to include an $89 million investment that would close the wage gap. Securing this funding in the budget would create stability for these educators, as well as the program and the community-based organizations that provide many of these services. It's the right thing to do.</p> <p>Teacher strikes have picked up momentum across the country for better pay and improved classroom conditions; and now, early childhood educators are deciding whether to strike here in New York City. We stand with teachers in calling for wage parity for early childhood educators and know that this decision does not come lightly. It is only after years of underpayment and efforts toward a resolution.</p> <p>At a time when the mayor and his administration rightfully strive for the need for a school system that provides ‘equity and excellence for all,’ what sort of message are we sending by so drastically underpaying the teachers who primarily care for and educate children from low-income families? We’re not just shortchanging these educators; we’re shortchanging the students they teach, their families, and our city’s communities.</p> <p>We want a school system that gives every single student in our city the same opportunities to succeed – that simply cannot happen if the system itself is unstable. A teacher’s salary should not depend on the type of contract they have with the city, but too often, it does. It is time that we correct the inequities of our system and support professionals who work hard to ensure that every child is getting the proper head start on development they deserve.</p> <p>***<br />Mark Treyger is the chair of the City Council’s Committee on Education. Stephen Levin chairs the City Council’s Committee on General Welfare. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/MarkTreyger718" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@MarkTreyger718</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/StephenLevin33" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@StephenLevin33</a>.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-firstday.jpg" alt="mayor firstday" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>We know now, more than ever, just how malleable the mind of a young child is, and we understand that the earlier we begin engaging a child’s mind, the better off that child will be. Early childhood education can positively impact the academic, social, and emotional development of children, while providing much-needed financial relief for our city’s low-income families with children, for whom child care is a major expense.</p> <p>Our city recognizes the significance early childhood education has, both for children and families. Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to investing in and expanding his Universal Pre-K and 3-K initiatives is proof of that, and we wholeheartedly support these programs because they help level the playing field for some of our city’s most vulnerable families.</p> <p>Yet it is unconscionable that while the programs continue to grow, City Hall has failed to address a significant inequity that threatens the very success of the initiatives – the fair pay of teachers. Our children deserve the best opportunities we can give them, and in order for that to happen, we need to fairly compensate those who dedicate themselves to caring for our children and providing that critical, quality early education.</p> <p>Most of the children who are currently enrolled in the Universal Pre-K program attend programs offered by community-based organizations (CBOs), where early childhood educators are rightfully fighting for wage parity that can help level the playing field for them and their families, as well. CBO-based pre-K teachers with bachelor’s degrees earn significantly less than their counterparts with the Department of Education (DOE) -- and often work more hours for a longer school year.</p> <p>A CBO-based certified teacher with five years of experience makes approximately $42,000, while DOE counterparts with the same credentials earn closer to $60,000. The gap in salary widens over time — nearly doubling at 10 years of experience. A DOE pre-K teacher with a master’s degree and 20 years of experience can earn as much as $91,000 annually, while a CBO-based teacher with identical credentials can max out at approximately $50,000.</p> <p>The same job responsibilities, the same experience, and the same qualifications for significantly less money. It’s not right, and it isn’t fair.</p> <p>It’s no surprise that many CBO-based early childhood programs struggle to hold on to quality educators. Wage disparity demoralizes educators at CBOs -- many of whom are women of color -- and puts them in the unfair position of having to choose between the work they have passionately dedicated their lives to and caring for their own families. How can we expect our children to be properly educated and cared for if those tasked with that responsibility aren’t provided with the resources to do the same for their own?</p> <p>Many of these educators are forced to look elsewhere for employment as a result, and that frequent turnover can have a destabilizing effect on the development of a young child’s mind. The longer we continue to drastically underpay non-DOE early childhood educators, the likelier it becomes that more and more of the early childhood programs that so many of our city’s families rely on will be forced to close their doors.</p> <p>In the City Council, we pushed for funding for pay parity to be a part of the fiscal year 2019 budget, following a summer hearing on the Early Learn transition to DOE. At the hearing, we made it clear that pay parity needed to be addressed, but the de Blasio administration failed to see the same urgency, instead promising that the issue will be resolved during contract negotiations. That still has not happened and the mayor is out of time.</p> <p>When the administration released a new round of contracts for early childhood services, it failed to include the increased funding that community providers were looking for, making clear that there is a lack of urgency or interest in addressing this problem. We need real solutions, not gestures.</p> <p>The City Council just released its response to the mayor’s fiscal year 2020 preliminary budget proposal, and under the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson, we are specifically calling on the mayor to include an $89 million investment that would close the wage gap. Securing this funding in the budget would create stability for these educators, as well as the program and the community-based organizations that provide many of these services. It's the right thing to do.</p> <p>Teacher strikes have picked up momentum across the country for better pay and improved classroom conditions; and now, early childhood educators are deciding whether to strike here in New York City. We stand with teachers in calling for wage parity for early childhood educators and know that this decision does not come lightly. It is only after years of underpayment and efforts toward a resolution.</p> <p>At a time when the mayor and his administration rightfully strive for the need for a school system that provides ‘equity and excellence for all,’ what sort of message are we sending by so drastically underpaying the teachers who primarily care for and educate children from low-income families? We’re not just shortchanging these educators; we’re shortchanging the students they teach, their families, and our city’s communities.</p> <p>We want a school system that gives every single student in our city the same opportunities to succeed – that simply cannot happen if the system itself is unstable. A teacher’s salary should not depend on the type of contract they have with the city, but too often, it does. It is time that we correct the inequities of our system and support professionals who work hard to ensure that every child is getting the proper head start on development they deserve.</p> <p>***<br />Mark Treyger is the chair of the City Council’s Committee on Education. Stephen Levin chairs the City Council’s Committee on General Welfare. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/MarkTreyger718" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@MarkTreyger718</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/StephenLevin33" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@StephenLevin33</a>.</p> <p>

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City Council Fire Department Proposals Don't Match Need for Reform 2019-04-16T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8455-city-council-fire-department-proposals-don-t-match-need-for-reform Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayorcommappleton.jpg" alt="mayorcommappleton" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Last week the City Council presented its response to Mayor de Blasio’s preliminary budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. It proposes to add $1.5 billion in annual operating expenditures and more than $1 billion in capital spending to the budget proposed by the mayor. Among the proposals are four that would significantly increase spending on the Fire Department and for which there is no clear justification other than political expediency. Two of them would not only be expensive, but would undermine provisions of contracts agreed to through collective bargaining.</p> <p>First, the Council would add a fifth firefighter to 20 engine companies across the city. Most fire engines are staffed with four firefighters as is the practice in most fire departments across the country.</p> <p>The 2015 contract with the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) added a firefighter to 20 companies to be phased in over four years, in exchange for agreement that the absentee rate be kept below 7.5 percent. High absenteeism has been a problem at the FDNY, which contributes to high overtime expense.</p> <p>The trade-off of adding staffing (and hence, new hires) while offsetting some of the cost through reduced absenteeism is exactly the type of mutually-achieved productivity measure that the de Blasio administration proudly touts as part of its approach to labor relations.</p> <p>Yet last December, when the fifth firefighter was taken off the engines because the absentee rate rose over its agreed cap, the UFA complained vehemently. The mayor reinstated the staffing after there were <a href="https://nypost.com/2019/04/02/de-blasio-suspends-fdny-staff-cuts-following-post-expose" target="_blank" rel="noopener">media reports</a> about the disagreement. Now, the Council proposes adding another 20 firefighters without any linkage to the absentee cap. The location of the engine companies to be increased and/or criteria for making these additions is not specified by the Council.</p> <p>It is certainly true, as the Council notes, that FDNY call volume has been rising, but the calls are not for fires for which an additional firefighter to stretch out water hoses would be deployed, but for medical emergencies.</p> <p>Less than 2% of all calls answered by the FDNY city-wide are for fires. The vast majority of calls are for some kind of medical situation. While engine companies answer most of these calls because they can get to them most quickly, they cannot administer most medical services or transport sick people to the hospital, so an ambulance usually must follow the fire engine to these incidents. Therefore, an additional firefighter does nothing to improve or increase response to the vast majority of fire engine runs as the Council implies.</p> <p>The additional staff would effectively repeal a labor contract provision. Would the Council ever propose to legislatively overrule a contract provision that is regarded by a union as favorable to its interests? Doubtful.</p> <p>The FDNY most definitely needs to rethink and reallocate staff to adapt to the fact that it has become primarily a medical-emergency, not a fire-fighting, organization. The last thing it needs is more staff who are not trained to administer to medical needs, hired to increase headcount and the number of UFA members. Not only should the mayor reject this proposal, he should direct the Fire Commissioner to re-institute the contractual link between the current five-staff engines and the absentee rate.</p> <p>Second, the Council wants to add $17 million in capital funding to establish a third EMS station on Staten Island. But EMS runs for life-threatening incidents have grown less on Staten Island than in any other borough over the last year.</p> <p>Nor is there justification for creating a $32 million firehouse in Hudson Yards. The UFA has been advocating for a station in this new neighborhood since work on the development began. There are EMS ambulances posted in the area and three fire stations nearby. All of the brand new buildings in Hudson Yards have the latest fire safety technology and there is no reason to expect significant increases in fire calls in the area, yet the Council and the UFA want to allocate 45 new permanent firefighter positions, adding more than $4 million to annual FDNY personnel costs.</p> <p>Finally, there is a call to “re-evaluate public sector wages across the board and plan to correct disparities.” Among the “egregious” disparities noted are those of emergency medical service technicians and paramedics who earn less than firefighters. The Council calls on the FDNY to reset wage rates for its workers.</p> <p>No cost estimate for this recommendation is included but raising all EMTs and paramedics to the same salaries as firefighters with the same years of service would cost an additional $67.5 million a year, plus an additional $10.5 million in additional costs for increased pension and payroll tax contributions, according to Citizens Budget Commission. This magnitude of expense should not be imposed outside the collective bargaining process, during which other issues like potential productivity offsets can be taken into account.</p> <p>It is true that the lower salaries and higher workloads of EMTs compared to firefighters are contributing to relatively high overtime and staff turnover. The FDNY needs to be re-engineered to acknowledge and improve <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/reviving-ems" target="_blank" rel="noopener">its primary function as a medical emergency service</a>; simply paying EMTs and paramedics much more would just be a band-aid on a larger problem, and a very expensive one.</p> <p>New Yorkers respect and appreciate the valiant service of our firefighters and our emergency medical service personnel. It is possible that some or all of the additional costs of the Council’s proposals could be offset by reducing unneeded, expensive fire stations, and bills introduced by Council Member Joseph Borelli to require ongoing evaluation of the impact of new development on EMS service would provide real data upon which to base future resource allocation decisions. But the Council’s reaction to changed conditions in its budget response is solely to spend more on everything.</p> <p>***<br />Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.</p> <p>

***
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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayorcommappleton.jpg" alt="mayorcommappleton" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Last week the City Council presented its response to Mayor de Blasio’s preliminary budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. It proposes to add $1.5 billion in annual operating expenditures and more than $1 billion in capital spending to the budget proposed by the mayor. Among the proposals are four that would significantly increase spending on the Fire Department and for which there is no clear justification other than political expediency. Two of them would not only be expensive, but would undermine provisions of contracts agreed to through collective bargaining.</p> <p>First, the Council would add a fifth firefighter to 20 engine companies across the city. Most fire engines are staffed with four firefighters as is the practice in most fire departments across the country.</p> <p>The 2015 contract with the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) added a firefighter to 20 companies to be phased in over four years, in exchange for agreement that the absentee rate be kept below 7.5 percent. High absenteeism has been a problem at the FDNY, which contributes to high overtime expense.</p> <p>The trade-off of adding staffing (and hence, new hires) while offsetting some of the cost through reduced absenteeism is exactly the type of mutually-achieved productivity measure that the de Blasio administration proudly touts as part of its approach to labor relations.</p> <p>Yet last December, when the fifth firefighter was taken off the engines because the absentee rate rose over its agreed cap, the UFA complained vehemently. The mayor reinstated the staffing after there were <a href="https://nypost.com/2019/04/02/de-blasio-suspends-fdny-staff-cuts-following-post-expose" target="_blank" rel="noopener">media reports</a> about the disagreement. Now, the Council proposes adding another 20 firefighters without any linkage to the absentee cap. The location of the engine companies to be increased and/or criteria for making these additions is not specified by the Council.</p> <p>It is certainly true, as the Council notes, that FDNY call volume has been rising, but the calls are not for fires for which an additional firefighter to stretch out water hoses would be deployed, but for medical emergencies.</p> <p>Less than 2% of all calls answered by the FDNY city-wide are for fires. The vast majority of calls are for some kind of medical situation. While engine companies answer most of these calls because they can get to them most quickly, they cannot administer most medical services or transport sick people to the hospital, so an ambulance usually must follow the fire engine to these incidents. Therefore, an additional firefighter does nothing to improve or increase response to the vast majority of fire engine runs as the Council implies.</p> <p>The additional staff would effectively repeal a labor contract provision. Would the Council ever propose to legislatively overrule a contract provision that is regarded by a union as favorable to its interests? Doubtful.</p> <p>The FDNY most definitely needs to rethink and reallocate staff to adapt to the fact that it has become primarily a medical-emergency, not a fire-fighting, organization. The last thing it needs is more staff who are not trained to administer to medical needs, hired to increase headcount and the number of UFA members. Not only should the mayor reject this proposal, he should direct the Fire Commissioner to re-institute the contractual link between the current five-staff engines and the absentee rate.</p> <p>Second, the Council wants to add $17 million in capital funding to establish a third EMS station on Staten Island. But EMS runs for life-threatening incidents have grown less on Staten Island than in any other borough over the last year.</p> <p>Nor is there justification for creating a $32 million firehouse in Hudson Yards. The UFA has been advocating for a station in this new neighborhood since work on the development began. There are EMS ambulances posted in the area and three fire stations nearby. All of the brand new buildings in Hudson Yards have the latest fire safety technology and there is no reason to expect significant increases in fire calls in the area, yet the Council and the UFA want to allocate 45 new permanent firefighter positions, adding more than $4 million to annual FDNY personnel costs.</p> <p>Finally, there is a call to “re-evaluate public sector wages across the board and plan to correct disparities.” Among the “egregious” disparities noted are those of emergency medical service technicians and paramedics who earn less than firefighters. The Council calls on the FDNY to reset wage rates for its workers.</p> <p>No cost estimate for this recommendation is included but raising all EMTs and paramedics to the same salaries as firefighters with the same years of service would cost an additional $67.5 million a year, plus an additional $10.5 million in additional costs for increased pension and payroll tax contributions, according to Citizens Budget Commission. This magnitude of expense should not be imposed outside the collective bargaining process, during which other issues like potential productivity offsets can be taken into account.</p> <p>It is true that the lower salaries and higher workloads of EMTs compared to firefighters are contributing to relatively high overtime and staff turnover. The FDNY needs to be re-engineered to acknowledge and improve <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/reviving-ems" target="_blank" rel="noopener">its primary function as a medical emergency service</a>; simply paying EMTs and paramedics much more would just be a band-aid on a larger problem, and a very expensive one.</p> <p>New Yorkers respect and appreciate the valiant service of our firefighters and our emergency medical service personnel. It is possible that some or all of the additional costs of the Council’s proposals could be offset by reducing unneeded, expensive fire stations, and bills introduced by Council Member Joseph Borelli to require ongoing evaluation of the impact of new development on EMS service would provide real data upon which to base future resource allocation decisions. But the Council’s reaction to changed conditions in its budget response is solely to spend more on everything.</p> <p>***<br />Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
City Council Response to De Blasio Budget Includes Investment in Workers, Cut to ThriveNYC, & Ferry Spending Transparency 2019-04-10T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-10T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8443-city-council-response-de-blasio-budget-calling-for-investments-in-workers-ferries-thrive-nyc Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/city-council-point-prelim-mayor.jpg" alt="city council point prelim mayor" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>The Mayor and the Council in a budget briefing (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council on Tuesday released its response to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fiscal year 2020 preliminary budget, calling its own outline “a fiscally responsible plan that safeguards the city’s financial future and secures the city’s social safety net for New Yorkers.” Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council members are calling for additional reserves and targeted investments, while also saying they’ve identified roughly $1 billion in savings that can be achieved between the end of the current fiscal year and the next one, which begins July 1.</p> <p>The Council spent most of March focused on the mayor’s $92.2 billion preliminary budget plan and the separate capital budget, holding over 30 hearings, at which leaders of 55 city agencies gave hundreds of hours of public testimony, according to the Council. The formal preliminary budget response is the culmination of this stage of the budget process -- and it comes just after the adoption of the new state budget, which significantly impacts how the city plans its spending. The Council will next move into negotiations with the mayor ahead of the release of his executive budget later this month, which will trigger another round of Council hearings, more negotiations, and a deal expected sometime in June.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8441-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-speaker-corey-johnson" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Appearing on Wednesday’s Max &amp; Murphy show on WBAI radio</a>, Johnson highlighted three areas of the response: growing the city’s reserves, strengthening the social safety net, and achieving pay parity for some sectors of the city workforce.</p> <p>First, the Council is requesting $250 million be added to the budget reserves, noting that the Council was able to secure $225 million during the last budget negotiations. Johnson said the city economy continues to look strong, but that a recession could be on the horizon. “We don’t entirely agree with the Office of Management and Budget” on revenue forecasts, he said, indicating that the mayoral administration’s budget office is being typically conservative in its estimates. Johnson said numbers over the next two months, as more tax receipts come in, will inform what will happen in the final budget.</p> <p>The city has billions in reserves but Johnson is worried that given the size of the city budget it may not be enough to weather a recession. Still, he did not indicate too much concern about the budget’s continued growth under de Blasio and the Council, with another $3 billion or so in spending expected for the coming fiscal year about the current one.</p> <p>The Council’s response also includes a request for pay parity for certain sectors of city workers, specifically human services providers, daycare workers, assistant district attorneys, and indigent defense attorneys. The request includes $109 for the indirect cost rates of human services providers and $89 million to increase daycare worker salaries. Additionally, the request includes $5 million to boost pay for assistant district attorneys and $15 million for indigent defense attorneys.</p> <p>Third, as he said multiple times throughout the preliminary budget hearings, Johnson <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8441-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-speaker-corey-johnson" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reiterated on Max &amp; Murphy</a> that “we have to strengthen the social safety net in this city.” Within the Council’s budget response there are several proposals to increase funding for programs to help New Yorkers in need.</p> <p>Programs that the Council wants to better support include the New York Immigrant Family Unit, senior meals, childcare services at CUNY, Fair Futures for those leaving foster care, and social workers for families with children at each of the 57 Department of Homeless Services-contracted hotels.</p> <p>The Council is also requesting for $580 million more in education funding, which will go to fair student funding, an expansion of the Comprehensive After School System (COMPASS), security cameras in all schools, and renovations for school bathrooms.</p> <p>The response also calls for $40 million to fund the city’s efforts surrounding the 2020 Census, an expansion of pre-arraignment programming, a funding increase for the NYPD Collision Investigations Unit, expansion of evidence collections teams, the opening of a community justice center in Far Rockaway, and the prioritization of the Department of Homeless Services Peace Officers for crisis intervention training.</p> <p>The City Council wants to expand the pre-arraignment programming and calling for $2.2 million, increase the NYPD Collision Investigation Unit, and expand evidence collection teams with $1.2 million in funding, open a community justice center in Far Rockaway, and prioritize Department of Homeless Services Peace Officers for Crisis Intervention Training.</p> <p>In addition to Mayor de Blasio’s $750 million PEG (Program to Eliminate the Gap), which is set to find that amount of savings across city agencies in time for the executive budget, the Council is also recommending an additional $972 million in savings over two fiscal years. These savings come from agency efficiencies, additional revenues, and expense budget re-estimates, according to the Council’s budget response.</p> <p>The Council found several ways to make city agencies more fiscally efficient. It wants the current partial hiring freeze expanded to include 870 additional vacancies that it says should be frozen for fiscal year 2020 or eliminated altogether as planned spending.</p> <p>The Council also wants a $50 million cut to the planned spending on the ThriveNYC initiative, which is estimated at $250 million next year. ThriveNYC, First Lady Chirlane McCray’s signature initiative, has recently come under increased scrutiny for unclear benchmarks and a lack of transparency and accountability. The initiative was recently criticized by several Council members at a March 26 hearing and has been the subject of a great deal of press examination. The Council writes that a $200 million allocation for next fiscal year would better match the plan’s actual growth over the last few years as it has ramped up, consistently spending less than budgeted.</p> <p>Other efficiencies include reducing energy usage, uniform overtime, the city’s vehicle fleet, and the Entertainment Incentive Fund.</p> <p>The Council also wants to see better budget transparency and clearer accounting. “The Council asks the Administration to increase the number of units of appropriations and capital budget lines, create a comprehensive capital project tracking system, and establish a NYC Ferry Budget Report,” the Council’s response reads.</p> <p>“However, new units of appropriation will not solve the problem of being unable to clearly track multi-agency initiatives or offices,” the response says. “For programs such as ThriveNYC, Universal Pre-K, and the Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, the Administration must commit to supplemental reporting with each financial plan and consistent budget labeling to show all relevant budgetary information for these wide-ranging programs. In addition, the Council calls on the Administration to provide additional reporting on particularly opaque parts of the budget, such as Department of Homeless Services shelter spending and NYC Ferry, which is operated by the Economic Development Corporation.”</p> <p>Additionally, the Council believes that there are several revenue streams that the preliminary budget does not take into account, such as additional state and federal funding for the Department of Social Services. A planned expansion of the city’s school-zone speed camera program could also generate up to $30 million in additional revenue, the Council estimates. The Council also believes that the mayor’s budget estimates for various fines and fees should be revised upward, and also recommends re-estimates to the costs of various city obligations, such as interest costs on the city’s debt service and holiday pay at some agencies.</p> <p>On the capital side, the Council budget response calls for a “sizeable investment” to increase bus lanes, bike lanes, and pedestrian areas. These investments would be part of a master plan for New York City streets, which Johnson said he will introduce legislation requiring “in the next month or so.” That master plan is part of Johnson’s proposal for improving the city’s transportation and livability, as he laid out in his State of the City speech last month. “Transit is the lifeblood of New York City,” Johnson said on Max &amp; Murphy.</p> <p><a href="https://council.nyc.gov/budget/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2019/04/Fiscal-2020-Preliminary-Budget-Response_FINAL.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Council’s response</a> calls for installation of 50 miles of new bike lanes and 30 miles of new bus lanes per year. The Council is also requesting a doubling of the Department of Transportation’s Pedestrian Plaza program.</p> <p>Raul Contreras, a deputy press secretary for Mayor de Blasio, said in a statement that “we look forward to working with the City Council throughout the budget process to build on our success, including collaborating on ways we can grow our historic reserves. We also look forward to evaluating new needs while being mindful of the City’s mandatory savings targets and any economic uncertainty the City faces.”</p> <p>

***
by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/city-council-point-prelim-mayor.jpg" alt="city council point prelim mayor" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>The Mayor and the Council in a budget briefing (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council on Tuesday released its response to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fiscal year 2020 preliminary budget, calling its own outline “a fiscally responsible plan that safeguards the city’s financial future and secures the city’s social safety net for New Yorkers.” Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council members are calling for additional reserves and targeted investments, while also saying they’ve identified roughly $1 billion in savings that can be achieved between the end of the current fiscal year and the next one, which begins July 1.</p> <p>The Council spent most of March focused on the mayor’s $92.2 billion preliminary budget plan and the separate capital budget, holding over 30 hearings, at which leaders of 55 city agencies gave hundreds of hours of public testimony, according to the Council. The formal preliminary budget response is the culmination of this stage of the budget process -- and it comes just after the adoption of the new state budget, which significantly impacts how the city plans its spending. The Council will next move into negotiations with the mayor ahead of the release of his executive budget later this month, which will trigger another round of Council hearings, more negotiations, and a deal expected sometime in June.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8441-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-speaker-corey-johnson" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Appearing on Wednesday’s Max &amp; Murphy show on WBAI radio</a>, Johnson highlighted three areas of the response: growing the city’s reserves, strengthening the social safety net, and achieving pay parity for some sectors of the city workforce.</p> <p>First, the Council is requesting $250 million be added to the budget reserves, noting that the Council was able to secure $225 million during the last budget negotiations. Johnson said the city economy continues to look strong, but that a recession could be on the horizon. “We don’t entirely agree with the Office of Management and Budget” on revenue forecasts, he said, indicating that the mayoral administration’s budget office is being typically conservative in its estimates. Johnson said numbers over the next two months, as more tax receipts come in, will inform what will happen in the final budget.</p> <p>The city has billions in reserves but Johnson is worried that given the size of the city budget it may not be enough to weather a recession. Still, he did not indicate too much concern about the budget’s continued growth under de Blasio and the Council, with another $3 billion or so in spending expected for the coming fiscal year about the current one.</p> <p>The Council’s response also includes a request for pay parity for certain sectors of city workers, specifically human services providers, daycare workers, assistant district attorneys, and indigent defense attorneys. The request includes $109 for the indirect cost rates of human services providers and $89 million to increase daycare worker salaries. Additionally, the request includes $5 million to boost pay for assistant district attorneys and $15 million for indigent defense attorneys.</p> <p>Third, as he said multiple times throughout the preliminary budget hearings, Johnson <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8441-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-speaker-corey-johnson" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reiterated on Max &amp; Murphy</a> that “we have to strengthen the social safety net in this city.” Within the Council’s budget response there are several proposals to increase funding for programs to help New Yorkers in need.</p> <p>Programs that the Council wants to better support include the New York Immigrant Family Unit, senior meals, childcare services at CUNY, Fair Futures for those leaving foster care, and social workers for families with children at each of the 57 Department of Homeless Services-contracted hotels.</p> <p>The Council is also requesting for $580 million more in education funding, which will go to fair student funding, an expansion of the Comprehensive After School System (COMPASS), security cameras in all schools, and renovations for school bathrooms.</p> <p>The response also calls for $40 million to fund the city’s efforts surrounding the 2020 Census, an expansion of pre-arraignment programming, a funding increase for the NYPD Collision Investigations Unit, expansion of evidence collections teams, the opening of a community justice center in Far Rockaway, and the prioritization of the Department of Homeless Services Peace Officers for crisis intervention training.</p> <p>The City Council wants to expand the pre-arraignment programming and calling for $2.2 million, increase the NYPD Collision Investigation Unit, and expand evidence collection teams with $1.2 million in funding, open a community justice center in Far Rockaway, and prioritize Department of Homeless Services Peace Officers for Crisis Intervention Training.</p> <p>In addition to Mayor de Blasio’s $750 million PEG (Program to Eliminate the Gap), which is set to find that amount of savings across city agencies in time for the executive budget, the Council is also recommending an additional $972 million in savings over two fiscal years. These savings come from agency efficiencies, additional revenues, and expense budget re-estimates, according to the Council’s budget response.</p> <p>The Council found several ways to make city agencies more fiscally efficient. It wants the current partial hiring freeze expanded to include 870 additional vacancies that it says should be frozen for fiscal year 2020 or eliminated altogether as planned spending.</p> <p>The Council also wants a $50 million cut to the planned spending on the ThriveNYC initiative, which is estimated at $250 million next year. ThriveNYC, First Lady Chirlane McCray’s signature initiative, has recently come under increased scrutiny for unclear benchmarks and a lack of transparency and accountability. The initiative was recently criticized by several Council members at a March 26 hearing and has been the subject of a great deal of press examination. The Council writes that a $200 million allocation for next fiscal year would better match the plan’s actual growth over the last few years as it has ramped up, consistently spending less than budgeted.</p> <p>Other efficiencies include reducing energy usage, uniform overtime, the city’s vehicle fleet, and the Entertainment Incentive Fund.</p> <p>The Council also wants to see better budget transparency and clearer accounting. “The Council asks the Administration to increase the number of units of appropriations and capital budget lines, create a comprehensive capital project tracking system, and establish a NYC Ferry Budget Report,” the Council’s response reads.</p> <p>“However, new units of appropriation will not solve the problem of being unable to clearly track multi-agency initiatives or offices,” the response says. “For programs such as ThriveNYC, Universal Pre-K, and the Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, the Administration must commit to supplemental reporting with each financial plan and consistent budget labeling to show all relevant budgetary information for these wide-ranging programs. In addition, the Council calls on the Administration to provide additional reporting on particularly opaque parts of the budget, such as Department of Homeless Services shelter spending and NYC Ferry, which is operated by the Economic Development Corporation.”</p> <p>Additionally, the Council believes that there are several revenue streams that the preliminary budget does not take into account, such as additional state and federal funding for the Department of Social Services. A planned expansion of the city’s school-zone speed camera program could also generate up to $30 million in additional revenue, the Council estimates. The Council also believes that the mayor’s budget estimates for various fines and fees should be revised upward, and also recommends re-estimates to the costs of various city obligations, such as interest costs on the city’s debt service and holiday pay at some agencies.</p> <p>On the capital side, the Council budget response calls for a “sizeable investment” to increase bus lanes, bike lanes, and pedestrian areas. These investments would be part of a master plan for New York City streets, which Johnson said he will introduce legislation requiring “in the next month or so.” That master plan is part of Johnson’s proposal for improving the city’s transportation and livability, as he laid out in his State of the City speech last month. “Transit is the lifeblood of New York City,” Johnson said on Max &amp; Murphy.</p> <p><a href="https://council.nyc.gov/budget/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2019/04/Fiscal-2020-Preliminary-Budget-Response_FINAL.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Council’s response</a> calls for installation of 50 miles of new bike lanes and 30 miles of new bus lanes per year. The Council is also requesting a doubling of the Department of Transportation’s Pedestrian Plaza program.</p> <p>Raul Contreras, a deputy press secretary for Mayor de Blasio, said in a statement that “we look forward to working with the City Council throughout the budget process to build on our success, including collaborating on ways we can grow our historic reserves. We also look forward to evaluating new needs while being mindful of the City’s mandatory savings targets and any economic uncertainty the City faces.”</p> <p>

***
by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Invest in City Parks to Improve Our Public Spaces and Save the Environment 2019-04-07T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-07T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8427-invest-in-city-parks-to-improve-our-outdoor-playspaces-and-save-the-environment Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/d1yd7nbx0aafoht.jpg" alt="d1yd7nbx0aafoht" width="600" height="351" /></p> <p>(photo:&nbsp;@RiversideParkNY)</p> <hr /> <p>Parks are an essential part of any city’s infrastructure. Getting into nature at an urban park<a href="http://www.gardinergreenribbon.com/parks-mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> lowers stress, eases depression, and fosters happiness</a>. Parks help build community - people get out and meet each other, kids play together, mothers talk, residents meet neighbors.</p> <p>Parks are particularly invaluable in<a href="https://nycfuture.org/pdf/CUF_A_New_Leaf_.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> New York City, the nation’s most densely populated</a> city. And we are fortunate to have so many parks to enjoy! More than<a href="https://parkscore.tpl.org/rankings_advanced.php#sm.00014p0ek1ve9eexsar28bljzx7n3" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 81% of New Yorkers</a> are within walking distance of public green space. New Yorkers are visiting city parks in unprecedented numbers. The city’s parks get more than<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7769-revitalizing-new-york-s-aging-parks" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 100 million visitors</a> a year.</p> <p>More than just places to commune and recreate, these greenspaces are also one of the city’s most valuable environmental assets. They provide clean air, help mitigate climate change, connect residents with nature, and provide habitat for wildlife.</p> <p>Parks are a major source of the city’s urban tree canopy. That canopy removes<a href="http://www.naturalareasnyc.org/what-we-do#forests" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 1,300 tons of pollutants</a> from the atmosphere and stores<a href="http://www.naturalareasnyc.org/what-we-do#forests" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 1.2 million tons</a> of carbon per year. Trees are vital for<a href="http://www.naturalareasnyc.org/what-we-do#forests" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> mitigating the urban heat island effect</a> and can lower air temperatures by up to nine degrees, cut air conditioning use by 30%, and reduce heating energy use by a further 20-50% -- all of which help decrease climate-changing emissions.</p> <p>The city’s parks and trees also contribute to our resiliency, capturing almost<a href="http://www.naturalareasnyc.org/what-we-do#forests" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 2 billion gallons</a> of stormwater runoff each year.</p> <p>The New York City Parks Department manages<a href="https://www.nycgovparks.org/about" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 30,000 acres of land</a>, about 14% of the city. Sadly, Parks receives less than<a href="http://www.ny4p.org/what-we-do/play-fair" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 1% of the total city budget</a>, leaving our greenspaces at risk.</p> <p>This is shameful. While New York spends<a href="https://nycfuture.org/pdf/CUF_A_New_Leaf_.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> $178 per capita on its parks. Minneapolis spends $233, and Washington D.C. spends $270.</a></p> <p>The average city park has not seen a major renovation for more than 20 years. According to a<a href="https://nycfuture.org/pdf/CUF_A_New_Leaf_.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Center for an Urban Future</a> report, there are cracks in virtually every retaining wall in city parks, deteriorating bridges, toilets that flush directly into waterways, drainage systems that can’t handle the runoff from even a gentle rainfall, and myriad other problems. Managers can’t do any kind of systematic planning and major infrastructure projects are often put on hold for years.</p> <p>Inadequate funding for proper maintenance has also led to a rise of invasive species in parks. Just over a year ago,<a href="https://patch.com/new-york/parkslope/invasive-beetles-found-prospect-park" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> invasive beetles were found in Prospect Park</a> that cut off the supply of water and essential nutrients to trees.</p> <p>The great irony of all of this is that New York’s parks are iconic.<a href="http://www.centralparknyc.org/visit/park-history.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Central Park</a> and<a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2013/8/7/10210902/25-little-known-facts-about-olmsted-vauxs-masterpiece" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Prospect Park</a> are routinely found on top parks lists.</p> <p>That’s why NYLCV has joined the Play Fair coalition with New Yorkers for Parks, DC 37, and more than 100 other groups.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ny4p.org/what-we-do/play-fair" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Play Fair</a> is a multi-year advocacy campaign for parks and this year, we are calling for increasing the Parks Department budget by $100 million for better maintenance.</p> <p>This investment could ensure that the city’s natural forests will begin to receive the proactive care they need to remain healthy and resilient in our changing climate. Maintenance workers would have the resources they need to protect our trees from invasive species and maintain the trees we need to absorb carbon and air pollution.</p> <p>It would go a long way towards fulfilling the goals of the 25-year<a href="http://naturalareasnyc.org/forests" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Forest Management Framework</a> for the restoration and conservation of the city’s hard-working natural forests, for which NYLCV has been advocating.</p> <p>Investing in maintaining our parks will make New York City more sustainable, improve resiliency, and conserve nature. It’s time we Play Fair for our parks.</p> <p>***<br />Julie Tighe is President of the New York League of Conservation Voters (<a href="https://nylcv.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYLCV</a>), the only non-partisan, statewide environmental organization in New York that takes a pragmatic approach to fighting for clean water, healthy air, renewable energy, and open space. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/julietighe17" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@julietighe17</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/nylcv" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@nylcv</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/d1yd7nbx0aafoht.jpg" alt="d1yd7nbx0aafoht" width="600" height="351" /></p> <p>(photo:&nbsp;@RiversideParkNY)</p> <hr /> <p>Parks are an essential part of any city’s infrastructure. Getting into nature at an urban park<a href="http://www.gardinergreenribbon.com/parks-mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> lowers stress, eases depression, and fosters happiness</a>. Parks help build community - people get out and meet each other, kids play together, mothers talk, residents meet neighbors.</p> <p>Parks are particularly invaluable in<a href="https://nycfuture.org/pdf/CUF_A_New_Leaf_.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> New York City, the nation’s most densely populated</a> city. And we are fortunate to have so many parks to enjoy! More than<a href="https://parkscore.tpl.org/rankings_advanced.php#sm.00014p0ek1ve9eexsar28bljzx7n3" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 81% of New Yorkers</a> are within walking distance of public green space. New Yorkers are visiting city parks in unprecedented numbers. The city’s parks get more than<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7769-revitalizing-new-york-s-aging-parks" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 100 million visitors</a> a year.</p> <p>More than just places to commune and recreate, these greenspaces are also one of the city’s most valuable environmental assets. They provide clean air, help mitigate climate change, connect residents with nature, and provide habitat for wildlife.</p> <p>Parks are a major source of the city’s urban tree canopy. That canopy removes<a href="http://www.naturalareasnyc.org/what-we-do#forests" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 1,300 tons of pollutants</a> from the atmosphere and stores<a href="http://www.naturalareasnyc.org/what-we-do#forests" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 1.2 million tons</a> of carbon per year. Trees are vital for<a href="http://www.naturalareasnyc.org/what-we-do#forests" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> mitigating the urban heat island effect</a> and can lower air temperatures by up to nine degrees, cut air conditioning use by 30%, and reduce heating energy use by a further 20-50% -- all of which help decrease climate-changing emissions.</p> <p>The city’s parks and trees also contribute to our resiliency, capturing almost<a href="http://www.naturalareasnyc.org/what-we-do#forests" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 2 billion gallons</a> of stormwater runoff each year.</p> <p>The New York City Parks Department manages<a href="https://www.nycgovparks.org/about" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 30,000 acres of land</a>, about 14% of the city. Sadly, Parks receives less than<a href="http://www.ny4p.org/what-we-do/play-fair" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 1% of the total city budget</a>, leaving our greenspaces at risk.</p> <p>This is shameful. While New York spends<a href="https://nycfuture.org/pdf/CUF_A_New_Leaf_.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> $178 per capita on its parks. Minneapolis spends $233, and Washington D.C. spends $270.</a></p> <p>The average city park has not seen a major renovation for more than 20 years. According to a<a href="https://nycfuture.org/pdf/CUF_A_New_Leaf_.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Center for an Urban Future</a> report, there are cracks in virtually every retaining wall in city parks, deteriorating bridges, toilets that flush directly into waterways, drainage systems that can’t handle the runoff from even a gentle rainfall, and myriad other problems. Managers can’t do any kind of systematic planning and major infrastructure projects are often put on hold for years.</p> <p>Inadequate funding for proper maintenance has also led to a rise of invasive species in parks. Just over a year ago,<a href="https://patch.com/new-york/parkslope/invasive-beetles-found-prospect-park" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> invasive beetles were found in Prospect Park</a> that cut off the supply of water and essential nutrients to trees.</p> <p>The great irony of all of this is that New York’s parks are iconic.<a href="http://www.centralparknyc.org/visit/park-history.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Central Park</a> and<a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2013/8/7/10210902/25-little-known-facts-about-olmsted-vauxs-masterpiece" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Prospect Park</a> are routinely found on top parks lists.</p> <p>That’s why NYLCV has joined the Play Fair coalition with New Yorkers for Parks, DC 37, and more than 100 other groups.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ny4p.org/what-we-do/play-fair" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Play Fair</a> is a multi-year advocacy campaign for parks and this year, we are calling for increasing the Parks Department budget by $100 million for better maintenance.</p> <p>This investment could ensure that the city’s natural forests will begin to receive the proactive care they need to remain healthy and resilient in our changing climate. Maintenance workers would have the resources they need to protect our trees from invasive species and maintain the trees we need to absorb carbon and air pollution.</p> <p>It would go a long way towards fulfilling the goals of the 25-year<a href="http://naturalareasnyc.org/forests" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Forest Management Framework</a> for the restoration and conservation of the city’s hard-working natural forests, for which NYLCV has been advocating.</p> <p>Investing in maintaining our parks will make New York City more sustainable, improve resiliency, and conserve nature. It’s time we Play Fair for our parks.</p> <p>***<br />Julie Tighe is President of the New York League of Conservation Voters (<a href="https://nylcv.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYLCV</a>), the only non-partisan, statewide environmental organization in New York that takes a pragmatic approach to fighting for clean water, healthy air, renewable energy, and open space. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/julietighe17" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@julietighe17</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/nylcv" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@nylcv</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
Preliminary Budget Hearings End with City Council Clamor for More Detail on Agency Cuts 2019-03-29T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-29T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8410-preliminary-city-budget-hearings-end-with-council-clamor-for-more-detail-on-agency-cuts Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/council-holds-prelim.jpg" alt="council holds prelim" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>OMB Director Hartzog testifies (photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)</p> <hr /> <p>As usual, the City Council’s March agenda was mostly dominated by preliminary budget hearings, evaluating the mayor’s initial spending plan for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. This stage of the city budget process started and finished with a general hearing held by the Council’s Finance Committee, along with its Capital Budget Subcommittee, with a series of more specific agency- and service-related hearings in between.</p> <p>The preliminary budget hearings finished where they began, with Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, and other Council members looking for more details about cuts and efficiencies the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to make across city agencies. When he presented a $92.2 billion preliminary budget in early February, de Blasio said he was instituting a $750 million PEG (program to eliminate the (budget) gap), the first PEG of de Blasio’s tenure, during which a very healthy economy has allowed the mayor and Council to increase spending very quickly, while also keeping reserves fairly high.</p> <p>But where will that $750 million come from? De Blasio and his top budget officials said they would give each agency, from the NYPD to the Department of Education, targets to meet and there would be more detail by the mayor’s executive budget, which is due toward the end of April. Yet City Council members want more detail now.</p> <p>The PEG was brought on, the mayor said, because the city’s recent revenue collections have not met the Office of Management and Budget’s growth projections. The city collected $46.5 billion in revenue for the previous fiscal year, which was a 1.2% increase from the year before. However, OMB had forecasted a 2.6% growth rate.</p> <p>At the City Council’s final preliminary budget hearing, Jacques Jiha, the commissioner of the Department of Finance (DOF), attributed this to the “weakness” in personal income tax collection (especially senior payments) and the “softness” of unincorporated business tax collection. Jiha also noted the recent inversion of the bond yield curve, which could signal a potential recession, as another sign that “the budget should be approached with caution.”</p> <p>City budget director Melanie Hartzog later echoed Jiha’s cautionary tone, highlighting three “economic risks” that led to the PEG. She clarified -- and repeatedly stressed -- that OMB and economists are forecasting an “economic slow-down,” not a recession, amid a national economy that has appeared vulnerable in recent years. Still, she called such a slow-down “a substantial threat to the budget.” Second, she also attributed the slowing of city revenue growth to a decline in income tax collections, noting recent changes to the federal tax code.</p> <p>Finally, Hartzog also discussed OMB’s expectations that state and federal contributions to the city budget would decline. According to Hartzog, the mayor’s executive budget will include cuts to health care and education programs unless the city can secure additional funding from the state. Also, while President Trump’s budget proposal would be detrimental to the city, OMB does not believe that it will pass through Congress. Hartzog said OMB would work with the city’s congressional representatives to secure federal funding.</p> <p>Council Finance Chair Danny Dromm, a Queens Democrat, said that he hoped Hartzog’s testimony would answer questions that came up in previous budget hearings over the past month. Speaker Johnson summarized the previous month’s hearings by saying that “most agency heads were unwilling or unable” to discuss what would be affected by the city’s $750 million PEG. When Hartzog said that these details would appear in de Blasio’s executive budget, Johnson said that he was “incredibly frustrated to be stonewalled.”</p> <p>Many questions that Council members had at the first preliminary budget hearing still went unanswered at the final preliminary budget hearing. Hartzog said that it was “too early in the process” for the Council to be given details about what particular cuts will be made at each agency. Agencies have submitted their preliminary drafts for savings, but the OMB still has to review those proposals. Similarly, Hartzog could not yet answer what percentage of the cuts would affect services and programs.</p> <p>Dromm said that cuts to programs such as summer employment for students and adult literacy “will be a non-starter.” Johnson agreed that the Council would not support cuts that would affect “vulnerable New Yorkers.” He warned Hartzog, “I don’t want a level of game-playing” over cuts and said that it would “be a big waste of time.” Hartzog said that “neither I nor the mayor want to play that budget dance.”</p> <p>When asked if she was confident that the city’s reserves would be able to prevent budget cuts to programs during a potential recession, Hartzog reiterated that economists were forecasting an economic slow-down not an economic recession and that she had confidence in the city “weathering an economic slow down” without programmatic cuts.</p> <p>Hartzog appeared less concerned about the potential for a recession than Johnson. Like Jiha previously stated, Johnson noted that an inversion of the bond yield curve is usually an indicator of an approaching recession. Hartzog conceded that a recession was “certainly possible,” but said that economists were forecasting a slow down, which would not be as severe. She also took the opportunity to state that the city has “built up our reserves and continued to have savings plans” during economic growth periods.</p> <p>Johnson brought up a Citizens Budget Commission report, which said that a recession could cause revenue shortfalls of $15-20 billion over three years. This would use up the entirety of the city’s reserves. When asked if the administration thought that more should be added to the reserves, Hartzog reiterated that the reserves were sufficient to weather an economic slow down and said that the city was planning to add to the reserves moving forward.</p> <p>Johnson also called out a <a href="https://nypost.com/2019/03/09/new-york-city-is-edging-toward-financial-disaster-experts-warn/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Post article</a> that claimed the city “is careening closer to all-out financial bankruptcy.” Johnson called the article “irresponsible” and Hartzog concurred. “We think there does need to be a level of improvement in transparency,” Johnson said, suggesting that OMB should provide “best estimates” of future revenue reserves because of OMB’s tendency towards conservative estimates. Hartzog said she does not believe that would be necessary.</p> <p>Between the testimonies of Jiha and Hartzog, Lorraine Grillo made her first appearance before a City Council committee as commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction (DDC). Grillo has also retained her role as head of the School Construction Authority (SCA), therefore leading the two main city agencies responsible for construction projects. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a Bronx Democrat and chair of the Capital Budget Subcommittee, praised the SCA under Grillo’s leadership for its “strong capital delivery.”</p> <p>Grillo told the committee that the varied scale of projects, which include everything from sewers to playgrounds, presented a challenge for the DDC, which she said “should not neglect smaller projects,” because many affect New Yorkers’ quality of life. She also expressed frustration that the state has not granted “blanket design-build authority” for the city’s capital projects, saying that it would streamline the capital delivery process.</p> <p>Jamie Torres-Springer, the first deputy DDC Commissioner, said that the state’s granting of design-build authority for the construction of four community-based jails, which are planned to replace the Rikers Island jails is “a really important opportunity for the city “to demonstrate the effectiveness” of design-build. Grillo added, “but imagine if we could use it for all projects?”</p> <p>Grillo also noted that there are “layers of policy and red tape” at DDC that SCA does not have. She has ordered an agency-wide review. She also pointed to the DDC’s Strategic Blueprint, which she labeled a “far-reaching plan” and “broad outline of improvements” with “common-sense fixes.” One area of improvement that she highlighted was front-end planning. The DDC has expanded its front-end planning unit and now works with agencies before they submit their project initiation requests. According to Grillo, “we are beginning to see a difference.”</p> <p>With preliminary budget hearings over, the next steps in the city budget process are seeing the results of the new state budget, due by April 1, followed by the City Council releasing its formal preliminary budget response. Soon after, the mayor will release his executive budget plan, setting off another round of Council hearings as well as public and private negotiations.</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/council-holds-prelim.jpg" alt="council holds prelim" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>OMB Director Hartzog testifies (photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)</p> <hr /> <p>As usual, the City Council’s March agenda was mostly dominated by preliminary budget hearings, evaluating the mayor’s initial spending plan for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. This stage of the city budget process started and finished with a general hearing held by the Council’s Finance Committee, along with its Capital Budget Subcommittee, with a series of more specific agency- and service-related hearings in between.</p> <p>The preliminary budget hearings finished where they began, with Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, and other Council members looking for more details about cuts and efficiencies the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to make across city agencies. When he presented a $92.2 billion preliminary budget in early February, de Blasio said he was instituting a $750 million PEG (program to eliminate the (budget) gap), the first PEG of de Blasio’s tenure, during which a very healthy economy has allowed the mayor and Council to increase spending very quickly, while also keeping reserves fairly high.</p> <p>But where will that $750 million come from? De Blasio and his top budget officials said they would give each agency, from the NYPD to the Department of Education, targets to meet and there would be more detail by the mayor’s executive budget, which is due toward the end of April. Yet City Council members want more detail now.</p> <p>The PEG was brought on, the mayor said, because the city’s recent revenue collections have not met the Office of Management and Budget’s growth projections. The city collected $46.5 billion in revenue for the previous fiscal year, which was a 1.2% increase from the year before. However, OMB had forecasted a 2.6% growth rate.</p> <p>At the City Council’s final preliminary budget hearing, Jacques Jiha, the commissioner of the Department of Finance (DOF), attributed this to the “weakness” in personal income tax collection (especially senior payments) and the “softness” of unincorporated business tax collection. Jiha also noted the recent inversion of the bond yield curve, which could signal a potential recession, as another sign that “the budget should be approached with caution.”</p> <p>City budget director Melanie Hartzog later echoed Jiha’s cautionary tone, highlighting three “economic risks” that led to the PEG. She clarified -- and repeatedly stressed -- that OMB and economists are forecasting an “economic slow-down,” not a recession, amid a national economy that has appeared vulnerable in recent years. Still, she called such a slow-down “a substantial threat to the budget.” Second, she also attributed the slowing of city revenue growth to a decline in income tax collections, noting recent changes to the federal tax code.</p> <p>Finally, Hartzog also discussed OMB’s expectations that state and federal contributions to the city budget would decline. According to Hartzog, the mayor’s executive budget will include cuts to health care and education programs unless the city can secure additional funding from the state. Also, while President Trump’s budget proposal would be detrimental to the city, OMB does not believe that it will pass through Congress. Hartzog said OMB would work with the city’s congressional representatives to secure federal funding.</p> <p>Council Finance Chair Danny Dromm, a Queens Democrat, said that he hoped Hartzog’s testimony would answer questions that came up in previous budget hearings over the past month. Speaker Johnson summarized the previous month’s hearings by saying that “most agency heads were unwilling or unable” to discuss what would be affected by the city’s $750 million PEG. When Hartzog said that these details would appear in de Blasio’s executive budget, Johnson said that he was “incredibly frustrated to be stonewalled.”</p> <p>Many questions that Council members had at the first preliminary budget hearing still went unanswered at the final preliminary budget hearing. Hartzog said that it was “too early in the process” for the Council to be given details about what particular cuts will be made at each agency. Agencies have submitted their preliminary drafts for savings, but the OMB still has to review those proposals. Similarly, Hartzog could not yet answer what percentage of the cuts would affect services and programs.</p> <p>Dromm said that cuts to programs such as summer employment for students and adult literacy “will be a non-starter.” Johnson agreed that the Council would not support cuts that would affect “vulnerable New Yorkers.” He warned Hartzog, “I don’t want a level of game-playing” over cuts and said that it would “be a big waste of time.” Hartzog said that “neither I nor the mayor want to play that budget dance.”</p> <p>When asked if she was confident that the city’s reserves would be able to prevent budget cuts to programs during a potential recession, Hartzog reiterated that economists were forecasting an economic slow-down not an economic recession and that she had confidence in the city “weathering an economic slow down” without programmatic cuts.</p> <p>Hartzog appeared less concerned about the potential for a recession than Johnson. Like Jiha previously stated, Johnson noted that an inversion of the bond yield curve is usually an indicator of an approaching recession. Hartzog conceded that a recession was “certainly possible,” but said that economists were forecasting a slow down, which would not be as severe. She also took the opportunity to state that the city has “built up our reserves and continued to have savings plans” during economic growth periods.</p> <p>Johnson brought up a Citizens Budget Commission report, which said that a recession could cause revenue shortfalls of $15-20 billion over three years. This would use up the entirety of the city’s reserves. When asked if the administration thought that more should be added to the reserves, Hartzog reiterated that the reserves were sufficient to weather an economic slow down and said that the city was planning to add to the reserves moving forward.</p> <p>Johnson also called out a <a href="https://nypost.com/2019/03/09/new-york-city-is-edging-toward-financial-disaster-experts-warn/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Post article</a> that claimed the city “is careening closer to all-out financial bankruptcy.” Johnson called the article “irresponsible” and Hartzog concurred. “We think there does need to be a level of improvement in transparency,” Johnson said, suggesting that OMB should provide “best estimates” of future revenue reserves because of OMB’s tendency towards conservative estimates. Hartzog said she does not believe that would be necessary.</p> <p>Between the testimonies of Jiha and Hartzog, Lorraine Grillo made her first appearance before a City Council committee as commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction (DDC). Grillo has also retained her role as head of the School Construction Authority (SCA), therefore leading the two main city agencies responsible for construction projects. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a Bronx Democrat and chair of the Capital Budget Subcommittee, praised the SCA under Grillo’s leadership for its “strong capital delivery.”</p> <p>Grillo told the committee that the varied scale of projects, which include everything from sewers to playgrounds, presented a challenge for the DDC, which she said “should not neglect smaller projects,” because many affect New Yorkers’ quality of life. She also expressed frustration that the state has not granted “blanket design-build authority” for the city’s capital projects, saying that it would streamline the capital delivery process.</p> <p>Jamie Torres-Springer, the first deputy DDC Commissioner, said that the state’s granting of design-build authority for the construction of four community-based jails, which are planned to replace the Rikers Island jails is “a really important opportunity for the city “to demonstrate the effectiveness” of design-build. Grillo added, “but imagine if we could use it for all projects?”</p> <p>Grillo also noted that there are “layers of policy and red tape” at DDC that SCA does not have. She has ordered an agency-wide review. She also pointed to the DDC’s Strategic Blueprint, which she labeled a “far-reaching plan” and “broad outline of improvements” with “common-sense fixes.” One area of improvement that she highlighted was front-end planning. The DDC has expanded its front-end planning unit and now works with agencies before they submit their project initiation requests. According to Grillo, “we are beginning to see a difference.”</p> <p>With preliminary budget hearings over, the next steps in the city budget process are seeing the results of the new state budget, due by April 1, followed by the City Council releasing its formal preliminary budget response. Soon after, the mayor will release his executive budget plan, setting off another round of Council hearings as well as public and private negotiations.</p> <p>

***
by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City’s Flawed Capital Project Process the Subject of Renewed Scrutiny, and Some Reform 2019-03-21T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8381-city-s-flawed-capital-project-process-the-subject-of-renewed-scrutiny-and-some-reform Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-bdb-200.jpg" alt="mayor bdb 200" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Many New Yorkers know the city has trouble completing construction projects on time and under budget. Projects like school renovations and the build-out of park facilities are capital projects, the subject of increasing scrutiny and some reform, with more promised, as frustrations persist and residents, watchdogs, lawmakers, and other city leaders seek answers.</p> <p>Top officials from the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to Comptroller Scott Stringer have taken a fresh interest in improving the capital projects budgeting and delivery processes. The mayor’s office has released several plans promising to do just that. After forming a new subcommittee on the capital budget last year, the City Council has proposed reforms and Council members have been critical of the city’s handling of capital spending during this month’s annual budget hearings.</p> <p>Stringer has proposed three city charter revisions to improve accountability, recommendations to a charter revision commission that will soon propose changes to the city’s central governing document.</p> <p>There are some areas of agreement among the parties involved, but it is currently unclear if there will be any major substantive changes to the current system, wherein the city’s long-term capital budget planning is lacking in transparency and widely seen as unrealistic, and projects are consistently falling behind schedule and over budget.</p> <p>Much of the recent attention has come through this year’s city budget process. As part of the reviewing the preliminary expense budget put forward by Mayor de Blasio, the City Council also assesses the preliminary capital budget for next fiscal year as well as the ten-year capital strategy.</p> <p>At the first preliminary budget hearing of this cycle, Melanie Hartzog, the city’s budget director, said that the top priorities for capital projects over the next decade would be education, environmental protection, housing, and transportation.</p> <p>In two recent hearings and several recently-released plans, city officials have promised to address many of the long-standing issues associated with capital project delivery, including planning, process, and transparency.</p> <p>“We have doubts,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, at the Council’s initial budget hearing. Johnson and other Council members raised several issues about the capital budget and the ten-year plan. He said that the latter half of the ten-year plan “does not take into account the city’s needs,” including both its current commitments and new needs that will arise.</p> <p>Multiple Council members brought up that the ten-year plan does not include any new school construction after fiscal year 2024. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a Bronx Democrat and chair of the capital budget subcommittee, called this “unrealistic planning” and noted the city’s history of frontloading its ten-year capital plans.</p> <p>Gibson specifically cited the budget planning for the NYPD’s capital needs. The current proposal allocates $850 million in capital spending for the first three years of the plan, and only $160 million in the next seven. Hartzog acknowledged the history and said that the city is working to improve. Council members did acknowledge some progress in clarity for what is outlined.</p> <p>In addition to problems with planning, capital delivery from conception to completion has its own set of obstacles. Recognizing the past-due and over-budget trend, the city’s Department of Design and Construction earlier this year released a <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/ddc/images/content/pages/press-releases/2019/2019_DDC_Strategic_Plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">strategic blueprint</a> that promises to “fundamentally reevaluate the status quo in City capital project delivery.”</p> <p>As of the time of the report’s release, DDC was managing 834 active projects valued at $13.5 billion. Since 2004, the annual capital budget has grown by $1 billion to $3 billion each year to keep pace with a growing city, which has also added nearly a million jobs in the same period. DDC deals with most city capital projects outside of the School Construction Authority, which is its own entity dealing with its eponymous subject matter. SCA is known to be far more successful in its planning and delivery than DDC.</p> <p>The blueprint identifies three internal and external impediments within the delivery process, including DDC’s own business practices, burdensome procurement process rules, and the engineering challenges that come with underground infrastructure that “all complicate efficient delivery of capital projects” in the city.</p> <p>The report also identifies climate change as a necessary factor to consider in all future planning. Capital projects need to both protect the city from rising sea levels and natural disasters as well as minimize the city’s contributions to global warming, according to the report. The agency is under relatively new leadership as it embarks on this ambitious plan. Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Lorraine Grillo, who has also continued leading the School Construction Authority, as the new DDC commissioner last July. Grillo has been widely praised for her leadership of SCA, including by City Council members, though the city continues to struggle with school space in many neighborhoods.</p> <p>DDC is currently undergoing an agency-wide review of its practices and external challenges. Through this review, DDC promises to “modernize how we do business.” These modernizing reforms include standardizing project initiation, managing projects more effectively, enhancing management capacity, and updating internal systems and technology. The plan promises to better identify and prioritize needs, streamline procurement, and restructure contracts to promote meeting deadlines, among other improvements.</p> <p>Contracts and contractor diversity are also a primary concern for the mayor’s office and the Council, they say. DDC wants to get more out of its contracts and diversify and expand the pool of applicants. Daniel Steinberg, the Senior Advisor to the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said that many minority- and women-owned business do not apply for contracts because of the city’s history of untimely payments. This can also dissuade newer and smaller businesses from participating in the bidding process. Timely payment of contracts is a larger issue that DDC is also seeking to address.</p> <p>During a February joint hearing, the City Council’s finance committee and capital budget subcommittee considered two bills that aim to improve transparency in the capital projects process.</p> <p>The City Charter mandates certain reporting on the process to the Council and the public, but Council Member Gibson said these reports “often do not relate to one another or the city’s real spending in a meaningful way.” The two bills, which had the support of the Council members present at the hearing, are intended to address these issues. Gibson said that the proposals would give the Council and public “a wholistic and detailed look at all capital projects that are in progress throughout the city.”</p> <p>The first, Intro. 32, sponsored by Council Member Andrew Cohen, a Bronx Democrat, would require city agencies to provide electronic notification of any delays or cost changes for capital projects. This is very similar to one of the charter revisions that Comptroller Stringer is proposing. The second, Intro. 113, sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, would create a database to track citywide capital projects. Finance committee chair Daniel Dromm, a Queens Democrat, said that “transparency in the capital process is key to providing assurances to the public that city resources are being put into good use in an efficient and effective manner.”</p> <p>While most of the hearing focused on these two bills, it was clear that the Council members had larger issues in mind and thought of the bills as first steps to larger-scale reform and improvements.</p> <p>Steinberg, of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said during the hearing that his office agreed with the two bills “in spirit,” but was concerned with components of each bill that he would consider to be “impractical.”</p> <p>He voiced concern that Intro. 32 would require reporting for all capital projects, which includes everything from equipment acquisition (such as of paper shredders) to building or repairing massive water tunnels. In regards to Intro. 113, he said that it “would be incredibly burdensome to implement while providing little new information.”</p> <p>Intro. 32 currently has ten Council sponsors, while Intro. 113 has 35 sponsors, well above the threshold required for passage in the 51-seat Council.</p> <p>Nonprofit watchdog Citizens Budget Commission submitted testimony in support of Intro. 113 at the February hearing, saying that “the capital budget is just as important as the operating budget and should be subject to the same monitoring and scrutiny.” Gibson brought up the bills again at the initial preliminary budget hearing.</p> <p>The two bills are focused on transparency in the capital projects process, but the sponsors and other Council members also contextualized the proposals as necessary for the eventual improvement of the entire system and not a distinct issue of bureaucratic transparency. During the hearing, Cohen said that “the inability of the city to deliver on capital projects is an epidemic.”</p> <p>Council members frequently expressed their personal frustration with the process and the length it takes for many capital projects to be completed, some spanning multiple Council member terms. Cohen, who is in his second term, said that he “spends a significant amount of my time on projects that were funded by my predecessor.” Gibson similarly expressed frustration over parks projects commonly taking as long as eight years to complete, which presents an oversight challenge to Council members, who are term-limited to eight years in office over two terms.</p> <p>A source of frustration for Council members was that only capital projects costing $25 million or more are required to be reported on the capital projects dashboard, a publicly-available transparency tool on the city’s website. Capital projects of that size account for only 300 of the over 10,000 ongoing projects for a year. Steinberg said that the Mayor’s Office of Operations would be open to expanding the scope of the dashboard’s reporting to be more inclusive than the current threshold. After learning that the city does not have an employee assigned specifically to data entry for the dashboard, Gibson said that it was evidence that capital projects transparency “is not a priority in this city.”</p> <p>Another area of agreement between the Council and Comptroller is the need for individual budget line items for each capital project. This proposal was one of Stringer’s suggested charter revisions and Gibson brought it up at both recent Council hearings pertaining to the capital budget. Stringer is also proposing that the city regularly report on the condition of capital assets, a requirement he wants added to the charter.</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-bdb-200.jpg" alt="mayor bdb 200" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Many New Yorkers know the city has trouble completing construction projects on time and under budget. Projects like school renovations and the build-out of park facilities are capital projects, the subject of increasing scrutiny and some reform, with more promised, as frustrations persist and residents, watchdogs, lawmakers, and other city leaders seek answers.</p> <p>Top officials from the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to Comptroller Scott Stringer have taken a fresh interest in improving the capital projects budgeting and delivery processes. The mayor’s office has released several plans promising to do just that. After forming a new subcommittee on the capital budget last year, the City Council has proposed reforms and Council members have been critical of the city’s handling of capital spending during this month’s annual budget hearings.</p> <p>Stringer has proposed three city charter revisions to improve accountability, recommendations to a charter revision commission that will soon propose changes to the city’s central governing document.</p> <p>There are some areas of agreement among the parties involved, but it is currently unclear if there will be any major substantive changes to the current system, wherein the city’s long-term capital budget planning is lacking in transparency and widely seen as unrealistic, and projects are consistently falling behind schedule and over budget.</p> <p>Much of the recent attention has come through this year’s city budget process. As part of the reviewing the preliminary expense budget put forward by Mayor de Blasio, the City Council also assesses the preliminary capital budget for next fiscal year as well as the ten-year capital strategy.</p> <p>At the first preliminary budget hearing of this cycle, Melanie Hartzog, the city’s budget director, said that the top priorities for capital projects over the next decade would be education, environmental protection, housing, and transportation.</p> <p>In two recent hearings and several recently-released plans, city officials have promised to address many of the long-standing issues associated with capital project delivery, including planning, process, and transparency.</p> <p>“We have doubts,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, at the Council’s initial budget hearing. Johnson and other Council members raised several issues about the capital budget and the ten-year plan. He said that the latter half of the ten-year plan “does not take into account the city’s needs,” including both its current commitments and new needs that will arise.</p> <p>Multiple Council members brought up that the ten-year plan does not include any new school construction after fiscal year 2024. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a Bronx Democrat and chair of the capital budget subcommittee, called this “unrealistic planning” and noted the city’s history of frontloading its ten-year capital plans.</p> <p>Gibson specifically cited the budget planning for the NYPD’s capital needs. The current proposal allocates $850 million in capital spending for the first three years of the plan, and only $160 million in the next seven. Hartzog acknowledged the history and said that the city is working to improve. Council members did acknowledge some progress in clarity for what is outlined.</p> <p>In addition to problems with planning, capital delivery from conception to completion has its own set of obstacles. Recognizing the past-due and over-budget trend, the city’s Department of Design and Construction earlier this year released a <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/ddc/images/content/pages/press-releases/2019/2019_DDC_Strategic_Plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">strategic blueprint</a> that promises to “fundamentally reevaluate the status quo in City capital project delivery.”</p> <p>As of the time of the report’s release, DDC was managing 834 active projects valued at $13.5 billion. Since 2004, the annual capital budget has grown by $1 billion to $3 billion each year to keep pace with a growing city, which has also added nearly a million jobs in the same period. DDC deals with most city capital projects outside of the School Construction Authority, which is its own entity dealing with its eponymous subject matter. SCA is known to be far more successful in its planning and delivery than DDC.</p> <p>The blueprint identifies three internal and external impediments within the delivery process, including DDC’s own business practices, burdensome procurement process rules, and the engineering challenges that come with underground infrastructure that “all complicate efficient delivery of capital projects” in the city.</p> <p>The report also identifies climate change as a necessary factor to consider in all future planning. Capital projects need to both protect the city from rising sea levels and natural disasters as well as minimize the city’s contributions to global warming, according to the report. The agency is under relatively new leadership as it embarks on this ambitious plan. Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Lorraine Grillo, who has also continued leading the School Construction Authority, as the new DDC commissioner last July. Grillo has been widely praised for her leadership of SCA, including by City Council members, though the city continues to struggle with school space in many neighborhoods.</p> <p>DDC is currently undergoing an agency-wide review of its practices and external challenges. Through this review, DDC promises to “modernize how we do business.” These modernizing reforms include standardizing project initiation, managing projects more effectively, enhancing management capacity, and updating internal systems and technology. The plan promises to better identify and prioritize needs, streamline procurement, and restructure contracts to promote meeting deadlines, among other improvements.</p> <p>Contracts and contractor diversity are also a primary concern for the mayor’s office and the Council, they say. DDC wants to get more out of its contracts and diversify and expand the pool of applicants. Daniel Steinberg, the Senior Advisor to the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said that many minority- and women-owned business do not apply for contracts because of the city’s history of untimely payments. This can also dissuade newer and smaller businesses from participating in the bidding process. Timely payment of contracts is a larger issue that DDC is also seeking to address.</p> <p>During a February joint hearing, the City Council’s finance committee and capital budget subcommittee considered two bills that aim to improve transparency in the capital projects process.</p> <p>The City Charter mandates certain reporting on the process to the Council and the public, but Council Member Gibson said these reports “often do not relate to one another or the city’s real spending in a meaningful way.” The two bills, which had the support of the Council members present at the hearing, are intended to address these issues. Gibson said that the proposals would give the Council and public “a wholistic and detailed look at all capital projects that are in progress throughout the city.”</p> <p>The first, Intro. 32, sponsored by Council Member Andrew Cohen, a Bronx Democrat, would require city agencies to provide electronic notification of any delays or cost changes for capital projects. This is very similar to one of the charter revisions that Comptroller Stringer is proposing. The second, Intro. 113, sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, would create a database to track citywide capital projects. Finance committee chair Daniel Dromm, a Queens Democrat, said that “transparency in the capital process is key to providing assurances to the public that city resources are being put into good use in an efficient and effective manner.”</p> <p>While most of the hearing focused on these two bills, it was clear that the Council members had larger issues in mind and thought of the bills as first steps to larger-scale reform and improvements.</p> <p>Steinberg, of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said during the hearing that his office agreed with the two bills “in spirit,” but was concerned with components of each bill that he would consider to be “impractical.”</p> <p>He voiced concern that Intro. 32 would require reporting for all capital projects, which includes everything from equipment acquisition (such as of paper shredders) to building or repairing massive water tunnels. In regards to Intro. 113, he said that it “would be incredibly burdensome to implement while providing little new information.”</p> <p>Intro. 32 currently has ten Council sponsors, while Intro. 113 has 35 sponsors, well above the threshold required for passage in the 51-seat Council.</p> <p>Nonprofit watchdog Citizens Budget Commission submitted testimony in support of Intro. 113 at the February hearing, saying that “the capital budget is just as important as the operating budget and should be subject to the same monitoring and scrutiny.” Gibson brought up the bills again at the initial preliminary budget hearing.</p> <p>The two bills are focused on transparency in the capital projects process, but the sponsors and other Council members also contextualized the proposals as necessary for the eventual improvement of the entire system and not a distinct issue of bureaucratic transparency. During the hearing, Cohen said that “the inability of the city to deliver on capital projects is an epidemic.”</p> <p>Council members frequently expressed their personal frustration with the process and the length it takes for many capital projects to be completed, some spanning multiple Council member terms. Cohen, who is in his second term, said that he “spends a significant amount of my time on projects that were funded by my predecessor.” Gibson similarly expressed frustration over parks projects commonly taking as long as eight years to complete, which presents an oversight challenge to Council members, who are term-limited to eight years in office over two terms.</p> <p>A source of frustration for Council members was that only capital projects costing $25 million or more are required to be reported on the capital projects dashboard, a publicly-available transparency tool on the city’s website. Capital projects of that size account for only 300 of the over 10,000 ongoing projects for a year. Steinberg said that the Mayor’s Office of Operations would be open to expanding the scope of the dashboard’s reporting to be more inclusive than the current threshold. After learning that the city does not have an employee assigned specifically to data entry for the dashboard, Gibson said that it was evidence that capital projects transparency “is not a priority in this city.”</p> <p>Another area of agreement between the Council and Comptroller is the need for individual budget line items for each capital project. This proposal was one of Stringer’s suggested charter revisions and Gibson brought it up at both recent Council hearings pertaining to the capital budget. Stringer is also proposing that the city regularly report on the condition of capital assets, a requirement he wants added to the charter.</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Charter Revision Commission Needs a Hippocratic Oath 2019-03-17T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-17T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8359-charter-revision-commission-needs-a-hippocratic-oath Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/citycouncil-vdrr-cm.jpg" alt="citycouncil vdrr cm" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>(photo:&nbsp;William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The entire New York City Charter, the city's foundational governing document, is on the operating table, and it is essential that the surgeons act with extreme caution.</p> <p>On March 7 I testified before the Charter Revision Commission created at the initiative of City Council Speaker Johnson, former Public Advocate James, and Manhattan Borough President Brewer. Charter revision can be a very wonky, technical topic, but the Charter is our city’s constitution and any changes made to it can have a significant, lasting impact. The last comprehensive charter revision was in 1989 and it has served us well.</p> <p>I urged the members to follow two guiding principles in their deliberations:</p> <p><strong>First, do no harm.</strong> The current structure of city government has for the most part served the city quite well for the last 30 years. With respect to finance and budgeting in particular, as a result of the fiscal crisis in the ‘70s and the enactment of the Financial Emergency Act in state law, New York City has the most transparent, professional, and sound fiscal management and budgeting process of any state or city in the country. Let’s not fix what isn’t broken.</p> <p><strong>Second, limit charter revision to structural changes that can only be made through the charter.</strong> It is meant to define core powers, structures, and processes. Most changes to current rules and procedures can and should be made through City Council law-making.</p> <p>Every complaint about the way city government functions (and there are surely many valid complaints) cannot and should not be addressed through the charter. It is already cluttered with hundreds of outdated provisions and others that belong in local law. Do not add to that clutter.</p> <p>Here are the most worrisome proposals that should be rejected by the Commission:</p> <p><strong>Independent Budgeting.</strong> This would enable the Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough Presidents, and several other offices to self-determine their budgets, in some cases according to a formula that is based on a percentage of another agency’s budget or the entirety of the city budget.</p> <p>While it is arguable that a few totally independent entities should have set budgets so they can do their work without concern about retaliation by an unhappy Mayor or Council (as is now the case for the Independent Budget Office, and only the IBO) it should not be extended to so many agencies, and especially not to the offices of elected officials. Their independence derives from and is protected by their direct election, not the size of their budgets. Spending priorities are to be determined in the budget negotiation process between the Mayor and the Council and removing budgeting for so many entities from this process would, in effect, take a range of positions and functions of city government as well as a significant amount of resources out of the control of those democratically-elected to oversee them.</p> <p><strong>Revenue Estimating.</strong> A proposal by the City Council would create a process whereby the Mayor would submit an estimate of the amount of revenue expected in the following fiscal year, the Council would accept or reject this estimate and if rejected, a revenue estimate would be set by the IBO. This would be a similar process to the one followed by New York State in which the Comptroller sets the revenue estimate if the Legislature and the Governor cannot agree upon one. The revenue estimate is important because it sets a limit on the amount that can be spent in the annual budget. But this new ‘consensus estimate’ is unnecessary in New York City.</p> <p>The City Office of Management and Budget is generally cautious in its revenue estimates, as it should be in order to mitigate downside risk. This has not unduly constrained spending; the city budget has grown an average of more than 5% a year over the last 18 years. Moreover, there are several other revenue forecasts published during budget season including that of the IBO, the Office of the State Special Deputy Comptroller, and the City Comptroller. All of these estimates are already compared and contrasted as part of the Mayor’s negotiation of the city budget with the Council.</p> <p>A more formal procedure for the Council to adopt or reject the OMB revenue estimate would only further politicize the process with each entity compelled to manipulate its forecast to anticipate the reaction of the others. Indeed, you can see how political the revenue estimating process can become by looking at what has just happened in the state process: the Governor announced a very dramatic revenue decline, requiring significant budget discipline; the Assembly and Senate each projected almost $1 billion more in revenue than the Governor, and the Comptroller eventually resolved the conflict with an estimate very close to the Governor’s. There is no reason for New York City to create a similar drawn out form of budget dance.</p> <p><strong>Pre-Audit Contract Screening.</strong> There is widespread dissatisfaction with the city’s procurement process. It is opaque, takes too long, and leaves too much discretion to individual employees. The solution to these problems lies in much better management and oversight, not with adding another layer of review by the Comptroller. It is up to the executive branch to decide the terms and contents of contracts and there should be far more public reporting and disclosure about them, but it is only going to cause even more delay to give the Comptroller the right to review these decisions in advance.</p> <p>A number of other proposals that would improve transparency and better link spending to performance goals, such as more specific Units of Appropriation in the Budget, use of Budget Function Analysis in more agencies, and better publicly-available tracking of capital projects, would be worthwhile but could be required through local law and do not belong in the City Charter.</p> <p>Proposals that are appropriate for the charter and that should be adopted by the Commission are:</p> <p><strong>Better Capital Budgeting.</strong> The Charter should be amended to assure that the capital budgeting process is more transparent, comprehensive and effective. In particular, the AIMS report should be expanded to include all city and city-controlled public authority capital assets (i.e., those of the Health and Hospitals Corporation) with at least a five year life and a minimum replacement cost low enough to cover most assets, including computer equipment and moveable assets. This more comprehensive report should be cross-referenced to the Ten Year Capital Strategy and the Capital Commitment Plan so it is possible to assess whether enough is being invested to keep all city infrastructure in a state of good repair.</p> <p><strong>Rainy Day Fund.</strong> There should be a way for the city to set aside funds to be used in the event of an economic downturn or a crisis that reduces revenue so that spending would not have to be drastically cut or taxes increased to maintain a balanced budget. The Financial Emergency Control Act doesn’t allow for such a fund, so while it is appropriate to include one in the Charter, it would also require state law to implement it. Such a fund should, in my view, be in addition to the Retiree Health Benefit Trust, which already exists but is regarded by some as a de facto Rainy Day Fund. Both of these funds should have specific criteria for mandatory deposits and limitations on withdrawals so that money is steadily deposited in good times and can only be withdrawn under set conditions.</p> <p>Revision of the City Charter should be done with care. It should not be used to settle scores or re-allocate authority in ways that could have unintended adverse consequences despite the best of intentions.</p> <p><strong>Here is an idea for the Commission:</strong> limit your proposed amendments to no more than one page for each of the four topic areas you have delineated. If you can keep it that short you have less chance of doing damage and are more likely to make only adjustments that will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of our government.</p> <p>***<br />Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/citycouncil-vdrr-cm.jpg" alt="citycouncil vdrr cm" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>(photo:&nbsp;William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The entire New York City Charter, the city's foundational governing document, is on the operating table, and it is essential that the surgeons act with extreme caution.</p> <p>On March 7 I testified before the Charter Revision Commission created at the initiative of City Council Speaker Johnson, former Public Advocate James, and Manhattan Borough President Brewer. Charter revision can be a very wonky, technical topic, but the Charter is our city’s constitution and any changes made to it can have a significant, lasting impact. The last comprehensive charter revision was in 1989 and it has served us well.</p> <p>I urged the members to follow two guiding principles in their deliberations:</p> <p><strong>First, do no harm.</strong> The current structure of city government has for the most part served the city quite well for the last 30 years. With respect to finance and budgeting in particular, as a result of the fiscal crisis in the ‘70s and the enactment of the Financial Emergency Act in state law, New York City has the most transparent, professional, and sound fiscal management and budgeting process of any state or city in the country. Let’s not fix what isn’t broken.</p> <p><strong>Second, limit charter revision to structural changes that can only be made through the charter.</strong> It is meant to define core powers, structures, and processes. Most changes to current rules and procedures can and should be made through City Council law-making.</p> <p>Every complaint about the way city government functions (and there are surely many valid complaints) cannot and should not be addressed through the charter. It is already cluttered with hundreds of outdated provisions and others that belong in local law. Do not add to that clutter.</p> <p>Here are the most worrisome proposals that should be rejected by the Commission:</p> <p><strong>Independent Budgeting.</strong> This would enable the Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough Presidents, and several other offices to self-determine their budgets, in some cases according to a formula that is based on a percentage of another agency’s budget or the entirety of the city budget.</p> <p>While it is arguable that a few totally independent entities should have set budgets so they can do their work without concern about retaliation by an unhappy Mayor or Council (as is now the case for the Independent Budget Office, and only the IBO) it should not be extended to so many agencies, and especially not to the offices of elected officials. Their independence derives from and is protected by their direct election, not the size of their budgets. Spending priorities are to be determined in the budget negotiation process between the Mayor and the Council and removing budgeting for so many entities from this process would, in effect, take a range of positions and functions of city government as well as a significant amount of resources out of the control of those democratically-elected to oversee them.</p> <p><strong>Revenue Estimating.</strong> A proposal by the City Council would create a process whereby the Mayor would submit an estimate of the amount of revenue expected in the following fiscal year, the Council would accept or reject this estimate and if rejected, a revenue estimate would be set by the IBO. This would be a similar process to the one followed by New York State in which the Comptroller sets the revenue estimate if the Legislature and the Governor cannot agree upon one. The revenue estimate is important because it sets a limit on the amount that can be spent in the annual budget. But this new ‘consensus estimate’ is unnecessary in New York City.</p> <p>The City Office of Management and Budget is generally cautious in its revenue estimates, as it should be in order to mitigate downside risk. This has not unduly constrained spending; the city budget has grown an average of more than 5% a year over the last 18 years. Moreover, there are several other revenue forecasts published during budget season including that of the IBO, the Office of the State Special Deputy Comptroller, and the City Comptroller. All of these estimates are already compared and contrasted as part of the Mayor’s negotiation of the city budget with the Council.</p> <p>A more formal procedure for the Council to adopt or reject the OMB revenue estimate would only further politicize the process with each entity compelled to manipulate its forecast to anticipate the reaction of the others. Indeed, you can see how political the revenue estimating process can become by looking at what has just happened in the state process: the Governor announced a very dramatic revenue decline, requiring significant budget discipline; the Assembly and Senate each projected almost $1 billion more in revenue than the Governor, and the Comptroller eventually resolved the conflict with an estimate very close to the Governor’s. There is no reason for New York City to create a similar drawn out form of budget dance.</p> <p><strong>Pre-Audit Contract Screening.</strong> There is widespread dissatisfaction with the city’s procurement process. It is opaque, takes too long, and leaves too much discretion to individual employees. The solution to these problems lies in much better management and oversight, not with adding another layer of review by the Comptroller. It is up to the executive branch to decide the terms and contents of contracts and there should be far more public reporting and disclosure about them, but it is only going to cause even more delay to give the Comptroller the right to review these decisions in advance.</p> <p>A number of other proposals that would improve transparency and better link spending to performance goals, such as more specific Units of Appropriation in the Budget, use of Budget Function Analysis in more agencies, and better publicly-available tracking of capital projects, would be worthwhile but could be required through local law and do not belong in the City Charter.</p> <p>Proposals that are appropriate for the charter and that should be adopted by the Commission are:</p> <p><strong>Better Capital Budgeting.</strong> The Charter should be amended to assure that the capital budgeting process is more transparent, comprehensive and effective. In particular, the AIMS report should be expanded to include all city and city-controlled public authority capital assets (i.e., those of the Health and Hospitals Corporation) with at least a five year life and a minimum replacement cost low enough to cover most assets, including computer equipment and moveable assets. This more comprehensive report should be cross-referenced to the Ten Year Capital Strategy and the Capital Commitment Plan so it is possible to assess whether enough is being invested to keep all city infrastructure in a state of good repair.</p> <p><strong>Rainy Day Fund.</strong> There should be a way for the city to set aside funds to be used in the event of an economic downturn or a crisis that reduces revenue so that spending would not have to be drastically cut or taxes increased to maintain a balanced budget. The Financial Emergency Control Act doesn’t allow for such a fund, so while it is appropriate to include one in the Charter, it would also require state law to implement it. Such a fund should, in my view, be in addition to the Retiree Health Benefit Trust, which already exists but is regarded by some as a de facto Rainy Day Fund. Both of these funds should have specific criteria for mandatory deposits and limitations on withdrawals so that money is steadily deposited in good times and can only be withdrawn under set conditions.</p> <p>Revision of the City Charter should be done with care. It should not be used to settle scores or re-allocate authority in ways that could have unintended adverse consequences despite the best of intentions.</p> <p><strong>Here is an idea for the Commission:</strong> limit your proposed amendments to no more than one page for each of the four topic areas you have delineated. If you can keep it that short you have less chance of doing damage and are more likely to make only adjustments that will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of our government.</p> <p>***<br />Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.</p> <p>

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</p>
Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on City Budgeting and Contracting 2019-03-12T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-12T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mbdb-execb.jpg" alt="mbdb execb" width="600" /></p> <p>&nbsp;(photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The 2019 Charter Revision Commission, which is looking at ways to improve the city’s central governing document, heard suggestions on Monday from community-based organizations, fiscal watchdogs, and former and current city officials about potential changes to the city’s byzantine budgeting process.</p> <p>Over the course of more than three hours, experts weighed in on the city’s flawed contract procurement system, the severe lack of transparency in spending on capital projects, the possibility of creating a rainy day fund for the city, and measures to generally improve accountability in city spending. There was general agreement that city procurement needs to be overhauled to make it more efficient and transparent, but broader opposition to changes in the budgeting process and the administration’s ability to set revenues and expenditures.</p> <p>The city’s budget and budgeting processes are one of four areas of focus for the commission, which will sift through the hours of testimony it has heard, and has yet to hear, before releasing a draft of ballot proposals sometime next month. The proposals will go through another round of public input before the final questions are approved in June. The proposals will then be presented to voters on the November election ballot. The commission has already held hearings on elections reform, exploring issues such as ranked-choice voting, redistricting and campaign finance improvements, and another on police accountability measures. The next hearing is scheduled on Thursday, where the commission will look at issues involving finance and governance including the city’s pension system, a Chief Diversity Officer proposal, and issues around corruption and conflicts of interest.</p> <p><strong>City Contracting</strong><br />At Monday’s hearing, there was broad consensus from those within and outside government about how the city’s contracting process works, or rather, doesn’t. Advocates representing human-service nonprofits, which receive most of their funding from the city, bemoaned the now well-known sorry state of the system, with contracts delayed for months, threatening their financial security and their ability to provide uninterrupted services. Unlike private contractors, they cannot cancel the services they provide, advocates said, since they fill the gaps where the city is not meeting the needs of vulnerable New Yorkers. “We’ve entered an era for nonprofits that’s very dangerous,” said Janelle Faris, executive director of Brooklyn Community Services.</p> <p>Michelle Jackson, deputy executive director of the Human Services Council, which represents more than 100 nonprofits, noted that the city spends $6.5 billion on human services each year, which also allows nonprofits to leverage state and federal funding and philanthropic dollars. “We’re an economic engine,” she said. “The sector nationally is larger than the airline industry yet we do not treat nonprofits the same way we treat airline executives.”</p> <p>Jackson recommended several measures to improve procurement including established contracting timeframes, interest or other penalties on late payments by the city, and more detailed annual reporting in the Mayor’s Management Report, which tracks performance indicators for city services. Marla Simpson, a former director of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS), however, said financial penalties may not be effective and the best solution may be to name-and-shame agencies for their failures. “Transparency and sunlight is a much more important cure,” she said.</p> <p>Officials from the comptroller’s office and the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services concurred that city contracting is inefficient though they outlined steps they have already taken to improve it and promised that improvements are slowly coming to fruition. “I agree that New York City’s procurement must be overhauled,” said Daniel Symon, acting director of MOCS, in his opening statement. “Reliance on paper, a patchwork of siloed agency systems and a sometimes necessarily risk-averse culture combine to limit achievable results.”</p> <p>Lisa Flores, deputy comptroller for contracts, said the procurement system is “notoriously slow, bureaucratic and opaque,” and leads to delays that increase project costs for city vendors, which end up being passed on to taxpayers. She noted, for instance, that in fiscal year 2018, 80 percent of all new and renewal contracts submitted to the comptroller’s office for registration came in after the start date (40 percent of those contracts were late by six months or more) and for human services contracts, the number increased to 89 percent. She called for more transparency and accountability, particularly by setting specific timelines for agencies to submit contracts. Currently, the city charter only requires the comptroller’s office to register contracts within a timeframe.</p> <p>The commissioners recognized that procurement reform is an age-old issue. “I was on the City Council 20 years ago and we were having the same discussions,” said Commissioner Stephen Fiala, though he expressed doubts about imposing penalties on agencies for late submission of contracts. Other commissioners pressed the expert panel on oversight at agencies and the institutional issues with procurement.</p> <p>Flores suggested more outward transparency for the process and establishing metrics to track whether agencies are working in a timely manner. Symon, though, was wary of creating timelines for agencies that could potentially allow them to delay their work or lead to clashes with vendors. “What I don’t want to do is start with an arbitrary time-frame when we don’t know how fast it can be,” he said. Both agreed that the contracting process needs to be more structured and predictable, with vendors being able to track the progress of their contracts in real time. A time-frame, Flores said, would be an important first step. Advocates agreed.</p> <p><strong>City Budgeting</strong><br />There was similarly consensus on the subsequent panels where experts testified on the city’s expense, revenue, and capital budget procedures. But rather than agreeing on ways to improve the budget, they mostly were on the same page in warning the commissioners to be careful about interfering in what is already a strong fiscal management system.</p> <p>“Changing our fiscal discipline practices will cause unintended and perhaps adverse consequences,” said Chuck Brisky, deputy director for expense and capital coordination for the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. He opposed any shift in responsibility for the city’s revenue forecast, which is set by the mayor. Brisky said the mayor is accountable to New Yorkers for providing services and so must be responsible for setting the revenue projections that funds those services.</p> <p>“If the budget isn’t balanced by even one-tenth of one percent at our current revenue and spending level, the city could lose control of its finances to the Financial Control Board under the Emergency Financial Act,” he said. The state, he noted, doesn’t have the same stringent budget and accounting standards as the city. Brisky also opposed any changes to the mayor’s power to impound revenues, which allows for short-term fixes during times of crisis such as natural disasters, financial recessions or terror attacks.</p> <p>Preston Niblack, deputy comptroller for budget, echoed that sentiment, as did Mark Page, a former director of OMB, and Anthony Shorris, previously the first deputy mayor under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Both Page and Shorris repeatedly cautioned the commission to tread lightly around imposing new mandates on the administration’s budgeting powers.</p> <p>Niblack did raise several measures that could make the budget more transparent. It’s “very hard to understand exactly what you’re getting for your money,” he said, noting that the budget process is not linked to the delivery of services. The MMR, he said, is ineffective and does not report measures attached to spending.</p> <p>When Commissioner James Caras posed a question about the mayor’s ability to impound revenue, Niblack did agree that there could be limits on it to prevent misuse for political reasons. “Right now it’s open ended and should probably be restricted,” he said.</p> <p>The city’s capital spending process has been particularly fraught, leading to hundreds of millions in cost overruns and delayed projects. At the hearing, Jon Kaufman, chief operating officer at the Department of City Planning, outlined several reforms DCP has implemented and said that his department works with agencies to appropriately plan their future capital needs. But, he said, “I don’t think additional charter mandates are going to lead to materially increased collaboration.”</p> <p>Independent fiscal watchdogs also bolstered the administration’s argument. Carol Kellermann, former president of the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), gave the commission two pieces of advice: “First, do no harm...Second, don’t use the charter to do things that can be done by local law.”</p> <p>This question, what can and should be done by local law as opposed to amending the city charter, has been a theme raised throughout charter revision processes, including the one formed last year by Mayor Bill de Blasio, which saw three charter amendments passed by voters, all of which, some argued, could have simply been passed as local law.</p> <p>Kellermann and her successor at CBC, Andrew Rein, did recommend that the charter consider a proposal to create a rainy day fund for the city. Though Kellerman noted that it would require authorization from the state as well, she said the charter commission could create the criteria for it and present it to voters for their approval, strengthening the city’s case in front of the state. She also pushed for greater transparency in the capital budget, including by expanding the annual statement of needs that agencies provide to all city-controlled public authority assets.</p> <p>On a proposal to create independent budgeting for certain offices -- such as the public advocate, comptroller, and the Civilian Complaint Review Board -- Kellerman warned that it would be “dangerous” and could disrupt the city’s budget process by giving other elected officials besides the mayor creeping authority over the budget.</p> <p>“The City Charter calls for a lot more clarity on programmatic spending and performance in the city’s operating budget than we actually see in practice,” said George Sweeting, deputy director of the Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan city agency. He noted that the budget includes units of appropriation that are overly broad and that obscure spending, and that the charter should be strengthened to require units to be linked to individual programs. Kellermann also said as much, though she laid some blame at the City Council’s feet. “The Council really needs to insist more on doing this...but the definition in the charter is already clear that they need to be more specific than they are,” she said.</p> <p>Sweeting recommended that the charter commission start looking at ways to improve the Retiree Health Benefits Trust, which the city uses as a form of reserves, as a means of testing the appropriate way to create a dedicated rainy day fund. That could include specific “rules for when deposits have to be made and when withdrawals could be made.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mbdb-execb.jpg" alt="mbdb execb" width="600" /></p> <p>&nbsp;(photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The 2019 Charter Revision Commission, which is looking at ways to improve the city’s central governing document, heard suggestions on Monday from community-based organizations, fiscal watchdogs, and former and current city officials about potential changes to the city’s byzantine budgeting process.</p> <p>Over the course of more than three hours, experts weighed in on the city’s flawed contract procurement system, the severe lack of transparency in spending on capital projects, the possibility of creating a rainy day fund for the city, and measures to generally improve accountability in city spending. There was general agreement that city procurement needs to be overhauled to make it more efficient and transparent, but broader opposition to changes in the budgeting process and the administration’s ability to set revenues and expenditures.</p> <p>The city’s budget and budgeting processes are one of four areas of focus for the commission, which will sift through the hours of testimony it has heard, and has yet to hear, before releasing a draft of ballot proposals sometime next month. The proposals will go through another round of public input before the final questions are approved in June. The proposals will then be presented to voters on the November election ballot. The commission has already held hearings on elections reform, exploring issues such as ranked-choice voting, redistricting and campaign finance improvements, and another on police accountability measures. The next hearing is scheduled on Thursday, where the commission will look at issues involving finance and governance including the city’s pension system, a Chief Diversity Officer proposal, and issues around corruption and conflicts of interest.</p> <p><strong>City Contracting</strong><br />At Monday’s hearing, there was broad consensus from those within and outside government about how the city’s contracting process works, or rather, doesn’t. Advocates representing human-service nonprofits, which receive most of their funding from the city, bemoaned the now well-known sorry state of the system, with contracts delayed for months, threatening their financial security and their ability to provide uninterrupted services. Unlike private contractors, they cannot cancel the services they provide, advocates said, since they fill the gaps where the city is not meeting the needs of vulnerable New Yorkers. “We’ve entered an era for nonprofits that’s very dangerous,” said Janelle Faris, executive director of Brooklyn Community Services.</p> <p>Michelle Jackson, deputy executive director of the Human Services Council, which represents more than 100 nonprofits, noted that the city spends $6.5 billion on human services each year, which also allows nonprofits to leverage state and federal funding and philanthropic dollars. “We’re an economic engine,” she said. “The sector nationally is larger than the airline industry yet we do not treat nonprofits the same way we treat airline executives.”</p> <p>Jackson recommended several measures to improve procurement including established contracting timeframes, interest or other penalties on late payments by the city, and more detailed annual reporting in the Mayor’s Management Report, which tracks performance indicators for city services. Marla Simpson, a former director of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS), however, said financial penalties may not be effective and the best solution may be to name-and-shame agencies for their failures. “Transparency and sunlight is a much more important cure,” she said.</p> <p>Officials from the comptroller’s office and the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services concurred that city contracting is inefficient though they outlined steps they have already taken to improve it and promised that improvements are slowly coming to fruition. “I agree that New York City’s procurement must be overhauled,” said Daniel Symon, acting director of MOCS, in his opening statement. “Reliance on paper, a patchwork of siloed agency systems and a sometimes necessarily risk-averse culture combine to limit achievable results.”</p> <p>Lisa Flores, deputy comptroller for contracts, said the procurement system is “notoriously slow, bureaucratic and opaque,” and leads to delays that increase project costs for city vendors, which end up being passed on to taxpayers. She noted, for instance, that in fiscal year 2018, 80 percent of all new and renewal contracts submitted to the comptroller’s office for registration came in after the start date (40 percent of those contracts were late by six months or more) and for human services contracts, the number increased to 89 percent. She called for more transparency and accountability, particularly by setting specific timelines for agencies to submit contracts. Currently, the city charter only requires the comptroller’s office to register contracts within a timeframe.</p> <p>The commissioners recognized that procurement reform is an age-old issue. “I was on the City Council 20 years ago and we were having the same discussions,” said Commissioner Stephen Fiala, though he expressed doubts about imposing penalties on agencies for late submission of contracts. Other commissioners pressed the expert panel on oversight at agencies and the institutional issues with procurement.</p> <p>Flores suggested more outward transparency for the process and establishing metrics to track whether agencies are working in a timely manner. Symon, though, was wary of creating timelines for agencies that could potentially allow them to delay their work or lead to clashes with vendors. “What I don’t want to do is start with an arbitrary time-frame when we don’t know how fast it can be,” he said. Both agreed that the contracting process needs to be more structured and predictable, with vendors being able to track the progress of their contracts in real time. A time-frame, Flores said, would be an important first step. Advocates agreed.</p> <p><strong>City Budgeting</strong><br />There was similarly consensus on the subsequent panels where experts testified on the city’s expense, revenue, and capital budget procedures. But rather than agreeing on ways to improve the budget, they mostly were on the same page in warning the commissioners to be careful about interfering in what is already a strong fiscal management system.</p> <p>“Changing our fiscal discipline practices will cause unintended and perhaps adverse consequences,” said Chuck Brisky, deputy director for expense and capital coordination for the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. He opposed any shift in responsibility for the city’s revenue forecast, which is set by the mayor. Brisky said the mayor is accountable to New Yorkers for providing services and so must be responsible for setting the revenue projections that funds those services.</p> <p>“If the budget isn’t balanced by even one-tenth of one percent at our current revenue and spending level, the city could lose control of its finances to the Financial Control Board under the Emergency Financial Act,” he said. The state, he noted, doesn’t have the same stringent budget and accounting standards as the city. Brisky also opposed any changes to the mayor’s power to impound revenues, which allows for short-term fixes during times of crisis such as natural disasters, financial recessions or terror attacks.</p> <p>Preston Niblack, deputy comptroller for budget, echoed that sentiment, as did Mark Page, a former director of OMB, and Anthony Shorris, previously the first deputy mayor under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Both Page and Shorris repeatedly cautioned the commission to tread lightly around imposing new mandates on the administration’s budgeting powers.</p> <p>Niblack did raise several measures that could make the budget more transparent. It’s “very hard to understand exactly what you’re getting for your money,” he said, noting that the budget process is not linked to the delivery of services. The MMR, he said, is ineffective and does not report measures attached to spending.</p> <p>When Commissioner James Caras posed a question about the mayor’s ability to impound revenue, Niblack did agree that there could be limits on it to prevent misuse for political reasons. “Right now it’s open ended and should probably be restricted,” he said.</p> <p>The city’s capital spending process has been particularly fraught, leading to hundreds of millions in cost overruns and delayed projects. At the hearing, Jon Kaufman, chief operating officer at the Department of City Planning, outlined several reforms DCP has implemented and said that his department works with agencies to appropriately plan their future capital needs. But, he said, “I don’t think additional charter mandates are going to lead to materially increased collaboration.”</p> <p>Independent fiscal watchdogs also bolstered the administration’s argument. Carol Kellermann, former president of the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), gave the commission two pieces of advice: “First, do no harm...Second, don’t use the charter to do things that can be done by local law.”</p> <p>This question, what can and should be done by local law as opposed to amending the city charter, has been a theme raised throughout charter revision processes, including the one formed last year by Mayor Bill de Blasio, which saw three charter amendments passed by voters, all of which, some argued, could have simply been passed as local law.</p> <p>Kellermann and her successor at CBC, Andrew Rein, did recommend that the charter consider a proposal to create a rainy day fund for the city. Though Kellerman noted that it would require authorization from the state as well, she said the charter commission could create the criteria for it and present it to voters for their approval, strengthening the city’s case in front of the state. She also pushed for greater transparency in the capital budget, including by expanding the annual statement of needs that agencies provide to all city-controlled public authority assets.</p> <p>On a proposal to create independent budgeting for certain offices -- such as the public advocate, comptroller, and the Civilian Complaint Review Board -- Kellerman warned that it would be “dangerous” and could disrupt the city’s budget process by giving other elected officials besides the mayor creeping authority over the budget.</p> <p>“The City Charter calls for a lot more clarity on programmatic spending and performance in the city’s operating budget than we actually see in practice,” said George Sweeting, deputy director of the Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan city agency. He noted that the budget includes units of appropriation that are overly broad and that obscure spending, and that the charter should be strengthened to require units to be linked to individual programs. Kellermann also said as much, though she laid some blame at the City Council’s feet. “The Council really needs to insist more on doing this...but the definition in the charter is already clear that they need to be more specific than they are,” she said.</p> <p>Sweeting recommended that the charter commission start looking at ways to improve the Retiree Health Benefits Trust, which the city uses as a form of reserves, as a means of testing the appropriate way to create a dedicated rainy day fund. That could include specific “rules for when deposits have to be made and when withdrawals could be made.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Library Presidents Seek Additional Funds at City Council Budget Hearing 2019-03-11T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-11T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8350-library-presidents-seek-additional-funds-at-city-council-hearing Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/jvb_libraries.jpg" alt="libraries rally city hall" width="600" height="376" /></p> <p>Library rally before the Council hearing (photo: @NYCLibraries)</p> <hr /> <p>The presidents of the city’s three public library systems on Monday requested from the City Council an additional $35 million in operating support and $15 million in capital funding, allowing the libraries to maintain and expand collections, hire more workers, fund more programming, make necessary building repairs and expansions, and respond to emergencies.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget proposes a $388.8 million subsidy for the public library systems, which are separated into the New York Public Library (serving the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island), the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Library, as well as four Research Centers. City Council documents note that the combined system contains 216 branches across the five boroughs, and has over 65 million items, including books, DVDs, and periodicals, in circulation.</p> <p>Under the budget proposal, the NYPL would receive $142.9 million, the BPL would receive $106.7 million, the QBPL would receive $110.2 million, and the research libraries would receive $29 million. This would be a decrease for the NYPL and an increase for the other systems from this year’s adopted budget. The city’s fiscal year begins July 1; in February, de Blasio released his preliminary spending plan, coming in at $92.2 billion, that is now the focus of City Council hearings and will be the subject of negotiations before a new budget is agreed upon in June.</p> <p>The de Blasio administration has significantly increased funding for libraries. De Blasio’s first budget as mayor, the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, included $311.4 million for the systems, which itself was a large increase after several years of post-recession austerity in library funding under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.</p> <p>The presidents of the three library systems testified in front of the Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee, chaired by Queens Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and to a packed audience of library workers wearing orange “Invest in Libraries” shirts. The presidents are Tony Marx of NYPL, Linda Johnson of BPL, and Dennis Walcott of QBPL.</p> <p>Van Bramer, who before the hearing addressed a rally of library workers outside City Hall, was broadly sympathetic to the argument for more funding.</p> <p>“Just about anything good that happens in this city couldn't happen without libraries and without library workers, and we've gotten to a good place on public libraries in this city, but we can do even better,” Van Bramer said at the beginning of the hearing. “And I want to frame the discussion there and make sure that we're all working towards that goal.”</p> <p>The city’s public libraries provide far more services than just book lending and study space. The public libraries provide literacy programs, instruction in coding, and outreach to incarcerated individuals. They are, for many people, the only access point to the internet. The libraries are currently gearing up to play a critical role in ensuring an accurate count in the upcoming U.S. Census. And, according to Marx, 20 percent of IDNYCs are obtained at library branches.</p> <p>“We cannot do all of this if we don't get increased funding simply because our costs have been increased,” Marx said at the hearing. “We want to do everything in partnership with you, and we're proud of what we have done. But it is simply unsustainable without additional support.”</p> <p>Collective bargaining increases led to small proposed increases in the budgets for the BPL and QBPL, but the presidents signalled that this was not enough to cover rising labor and health care costs that would be met by the additional $35 million investment.</p> <p>The additional funding would, according to the presidents, allow the libraries to maintain current funding for their host of programs, instead of directing money towards fulfilling labor obligations.</p> <p>“[Allocating $35 million] will ensure our growing programs remain strong and have new and expanded spaces, are staffed with library workers, program rich, and filled with materials our patrons deserve,” said Johnson. She went on to note that the administration had instead asked the libraries to identify $8 million in savings as part of the mayor’s “Program to Eliminate the Gap.”</p> <p>While funding for libraries has substantially increased, there are some obvious areas where new funding could greatly improve the situation. One hundred percent of the city’s libraries are now open six days per week, but the percentage open seven days per week is in the single digits. While everyone in the room expressed support for having 100 percent of locations open seven days per week, the presidents dismissed this possibility as impossible in the short term, and that additional funding would be needed just to maintain six day weeks.</p> <p>On the capital front, de Blasio’s preliminary ten-year capital plan unveiled in February allocates $778.3 million to the city’s libraries, which will go towards renovations, expansions, or relocations for certain existing branches. Those present noted that branches often have to close in the summer due to broken air conditioning and in the winter due to broken boilers.</p> <p>The presidents asked for the additional $15 million capital allocation this year, $5 million for each system, in order to fund critical maintenance at branches, such as air conditioning or boiler failures.</p> <p>The spectators, library workers and allies, expressed satisfaction with the work of the library presidents and with Van Bramer via silent, jazz hands applause. Nonetheless, as their shirts indicated, they also were calling for greater investment in the systems.</p> <p>“The libraries have to advocate for funding because they have to make their points known why they need the funding in the first place,” said Kleon Battersby, a technology resource specialist at BPL. “New York is ever increasing as far as population, and they have to know that the funding is being used for the right reasons. So as long as they keep advocating for the libraries, I personally think the hearing went very well, and I hope that they give them the funding that they need.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/jvb_libraries.jpg" alt="libraries rally city hall" width="600" height="376" /></p> <p>Library rally before the Council hearing (photo: @NYCLibraries)</p> <hr /> <p>The presidents of the city’s three public library systems on Monday requested from the City Council an additional $35 million in operating support and $15 million in capital funding, allowing the libraries to maintain and expand collections, hire more workers, fund more programming, make necessary building repairs and expansions, and respond to emergencies.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget proposes a $388.8 million subsidy for the public library systems, which are separated into the New York Public Library (serving the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island), the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Library, as well as four Research Centers. City Council documents note that the combined system contains 216 branches across the five boroughs, and has over 65 million items, including books, DVDs, and periodicals, in circulation.</p> <p>Under the budget proposal, the NYPL would receive $142.9 million, the BPL would receive $106.7 million, the QBPL would receive $110.2 million, and the research libraries would receive $29 million. This would be a decrease for the NYPL and an increase for the other systems from this year’s adopted budget. The city’s fiscal year begins July 1; in February, de Blasio released his preliminary spending plan, coming in at $92.2 billion, that is now the focus of City Council hearings and will be the subject of negotiations before a new budget is agreed upon in June.</p> <p>The de Blasio administration has significantly increased funding for libraries. De Blasio’s first budget as mayor, the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, included $311.4 million for the systems, which itself was a large increase after several years of post-recession austerity in library funding under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.</p> <p>The presidents of the three library systems testified in front of the Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee, chaired by Queens Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and to a packed audience of library workers wearing orange “Invest in Libraries” shirts. The presidents are Tony Marx of NYPL, Linda Johnson of BPL, and Dennis Walcott of QBPL.</p> <p>Van Bramer, who before the hearing addressed a rally of library workers outside City Hall, was broadly sympathetic to the argument for more funding.</p> <p>“Just about anything good that happens in this city couldn't happen without libraries and without library workers, and we've gotten to a good place on public libraries in this city, but we can do even better,” Van Bramer said at the beginning of the hearing. “And I want to frame the discussion there and make sure that we're all working towards that goal.”</p> <p>The city’s public libraries provide far more services than just book lending and study space. The public libraries provide literacy programs, instruction in coding, and outreach to incarcerated individuals. They are, for many people, the only access point to the internet. The libraries are currently gearing up to play a critical role in ensuring an accurate count in the upcoming U.S. Census. And, according to Marx, 20 percent of IDNYCs are obtained at library branches.</p> <p>“We cannot do all of this if we don't get increased funding simply because our costs have been increased,” Marx said at the hearing. “We want to do everything in partnership with you, and we're proud of what we have done. But it is simply unsustainable without additional support.”</p> <p>Collective bargaining increases led to small proposed increases in the budgets for the BPL and QBPL, but the presidents signalled that this was not enough to cover rising labor and health care costs that would be met by the additional $35 million investment.</p> <p>The additional funding would, according to the presidents, allow the libraries to maintain current funding for their host of programs, instead of directing money towards fulfilling labor obligations.</p> <p>“[Allocating $35 million] will ensure our growing programs remain strong and have new and expanded spaces, are staffed with library workers, program rich, and filled with materials our patrons deserve,” said Johnson. She went on to note that the administration had instead asked the libraries to identify $8 million in savings as part of the mayor’s “Program to Eliminate the Gap.”</p> <p>While funding for libraries has substantially increased, there are some obvious areas where new funding could greatly improve the situation. One hundred percent of the city’s libraries are now open six days per week, but the percentage open seven days per week is in the single digits. While everyone in the room expressed support for having 100 percent of locations open seven days per week, the presidents dismissed this possibility as impossible in the short term, and that additional funding would be needed just to maintain six day weeks.</p> <p>On the capital front, de Blasio’s preliminary ten-year capital plan unveiled in February allocates $778.3 million to the city’s libraries, which will go towards renovations, expansions, or relocations for certain existing branches. Those present noted that branches often have to close in the summer due to broken air conditioning and in the winter due to broken boilers.</p> <p>The presidents asked for the additional $15 million capital allocation this year, $5 million for each system, in order to fund critical maintenance at branches, such as air conditioning or boiler failures.</p> <p>The spectators, library workers and allies, expressed satisfaction with the work of the library presidents and with Van Bramer via silent, jazz hands applause. Nonetheless, as their shirts indicated, they also were calling for greater investment in the systems.</p> <p>“The libraries have to advocate for funding because they have to make their points known why they need the funding in the first place,” said Kleon Battersby, a technology resource specialist at BPL. “New York is ever increasing as far as population, and they have to know that the funding is being used for the right reasons. So as long as they keep advocating for the libraries, I personally think the hearing went very well, and I hope that they give them the funding that they need.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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