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The Public Speaks on Budget Cuts

by Courtney Gross, Nov 25, 2008
 
 

For David De Porte, the Department for the Aging's intergenerational program doesn't just provide him with companionship. It gives him a set of eyes.

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De Porte, a blind lifelong resident of the West Village, meets with teenage volunteers who help him shop for groceries, fill out paperwork and check prescriptions at the drug store.

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"Guide dogs are great, but they can't read labels, and people in stores are not always willing to help," De Porte, a freelance writer, said. Xia, his German Shepherd guide dog, lay quietly by his side during his two minute testimony in front of the City Council yesterday.

The intergenerational program costs more than $1 million. Mayor Michael Bloomberg's budget proposal, released earlier this month, would eliminate that funding.

De Porte was one of many members of the public who got their first opportunity to opine on the mayor's budget proposal Monday. The proposal cuts -- by both increasing taxes and slashing spending -- $2.2 billion from this year's budget. The funding decreases would shrink next year's anticipated deficit to $1.3 billion.

For more on this year's budget cuts, check out "Budget Cuts: Round 1" and our breakdown of each department's cuts.

Cuts to Culture

Among City Council members, the elimination of a $400 property tax rebate has caused the most alarm, but the scores of residents who came to City Hall were far more concerned over the cuts to cultural, health and aging programs.

From doing away with the city's century-old dental program to cutting day care programs for debilitated seniors, the city, residents said, is eliminating the programs that are needed most when times get tough.

As she wound up small chattering teeth toys, Judy Wessler, the director of the Commission on the Public's Health System, asked: "We're talking about children losing their teeth right?" -- referring to the axing of the city's dental program. She let the teeth loose, and they danced off the testimony table.

The heads of the city's most prominent cultural institutions, like the American Museum of Natural History, urged the City Council to revise the mayor's budget proposal to soften the cut's impact. While all of the city's agencies saw an approximately 2.5 percent cut in this year's budget, cultural institutions argue their funding has been cut far more drastically.

According to figures provided by the Cultural Institutions Group, groups have seen cuts as high as 42 percent in city subsidies. The American Museum of Natural History's city funding has been cut by 22 percent -- a total reduction of $2.8 million -- in this fiscal year, while Lincoln Center's has been slashed by 42 percent. The entire cultural consortium has seen a total loss of 18 percent, according to figures provided by the group.

A reduction in programs for the city's most vulnerable, including residents of public housing and senior citizens, drew extensive criticism. The mayor slashes funding for local nonprofit groups that, critics say, will drastically reduce the local services they can provide. Many wondered what would happen to the care programs for seniors with Alzheimer's or the arts and education classes at their local community center.

"Is the city of New York so impoverished that it must rob these seniors of a last modicum of dignity?" asked Patricia Dolan, executive vice president of the Queens Civic Congress.

The mayor's plan will reallocate community services at the New York City Housing Authority saving the city $18.6 million. The cuts, though, will result in the closing of 18 community centers, one in Karen Anglero's Flushing project.

"New York City Housing Authority residents are the city within the city, and we vote, and we'll remember in November 2009," said Anglero.


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