Today’s news:

Community boards face lean times - Budget cuts hit home hard

Community boards are already among the leanest of city agencies.

But, scheduled budget cuts could make the city’s 59 local level agencies, 18 of which are in Brooklyn, even leaner, forcing them to trim personnel hours or even lay off staffmembers.

Currently, each of the board’s receives around $189,000 annually, to cover all expenses, personnel as well as supplies and mailings, and other non-personnel-related costs.

The impending cuts, amounting to $15,000 per community board, were proposed by the mayor for Fiscal Year 2009, but the City Council restored $10,000 to each board for the FY 2009 budget. A total of $15,000 in cuts to each board, however, remains in place for future budgets.

“We have no plans for how we would absorb the cuts, because we don’t have any elasticity in the budget to do so,” stressed Craig Hammerman, the district manager of Community Board 6, and the president of the Association of Brooklyn District Managers.

“Effectively, what the administration is asking us to do is absorb cuts that would cut direction into our operations,” Hammerman added. “We do have fairly substantial charter mandates that it would be difficult to comply with if we had to cut into our operating budget. I have heard some of my colleagues talk about fairly dramatic measures, like taking out telephones, stopping sending mail, taking out photo copies. It’s really come down to that.”

Hammerman’s concerns were echoed by other Brooklyn district managers. Doris Ortiz, the district manager of Community Board 14, told board members during the board’s November meeting, that the proposed cuts, if they go through, are “going to have a devastating effect.”

Given that the cuts amount to nearly 10 percent of each board’s total budget, “That’s a really, really big hit,” stressed Josephine Beckmann, the district manager of Community Board 10.

The boards’ budgets for OTPS (other than personal services) is “already stretched to begin with,” Beckmann averred.

“Other agencies grew, but community boards didn’t grow,” she went on. “The offices are small to begin with. You are going to see boards reduce hours for staff people or do layoffs.”

“There has to be a point,” Beckmann added, “where the cuts really affect our ability to perform our charter-mandated responsibilities.

The boards are not going to take the cuts lying down. Rather, Beckmann said, as they did last year, community boards are planning to “Get organized again and fight them.”

“For the better part of a year, we’ve been in constant mobilization mode,” noted Hammerman. “it’s been an incessant job to fight off the first wave. We are now dealing with the second wave. At this point, our last hope is the City Council. We hope they will again do the right thing by the community boards.”

CB 14 is already doing outreach. At the same meeting that she informed board members of the dire financial straits that may lie ahead, Ortiz urged them to write to the mayor and other elected officials, “To see if we can soften the mayor’s heart to restore some of the money, or all of the money, to our budget.”

The boards comprise the most accessible level of city government for city residents, where they can bring complaints or concerns, and which will let them know about changes in the community which might impact them.

The boards were founded in 1975, replacing the community planning boards created in 1963.

While the cuts are significant for the boards, they are miniscule within the overall city budget. “In effect,” noted Hammerman, “they come down to hundredths of a percent of the city budget.

“When the mayor says he’s cutting five percent from all city agencies, to the average person, it sounds fair, but an agency that has tens of millions of dollars has far more elasticity than a community board that has less than $200,000 to start with,” Hammerman went on. “It’s a regressive cut. It hurts the smallest agencies the most.”

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