The Queens Borough Board voted overwhelmingly to approve the package of budget priorities Monday, Feb. 13, although several community board chairs expressed concern over issues caused by the city’s migrant crisis.
Chaired by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, the budget priorities were developed largely from input received from two days of public hearings late last month on Mayor Eric Adam’s proposed $102 billion 2024 budget.
Pursuant to the City Charter, the Borough Board must submit its budget priorities each year to the mayor, the City Council and the city’s Office of Management and Budget.
Irak Cehonski, director of budget for the Queens Borough President’s Office, presented numbers on Monday that showed significant budget shortfalls for city agencies — except for the NYPD — and how much they’ll affect city services in Queens.
Most concerning among the budget cuts included a $295.3 million shortfall for the Department of Education and a $257 million shortfall for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
“Especially coming out of the pandemic, I don’t know how we cut anything to do with health,” Richards said. “We weren’t prepared during the first wave of the pandemic — I know all of us remember those days and we don’t want to see it again — so we need to make sure we’re fighting those cuts as well.”
Richards also bristled at the Summer Youth Employment Program being slashed by $21.7 million; the Department of Sanitation facing more than $53 million in reductions; a $61.6 million shortfall at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development; and a $12.2 million shortfall for Queens Public Library.
Cehonski said the Department of Homeless Services slashing nearly $70 million is a “huge concern” for Queens and moments later Community Board 3 Chairman Frank Taylor explained why.
“It is devastating to my community of which I serve, Community Board 3 in North Corona, East Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights,” Taylor said. “Everyone knows we’re a shelter town with 12 or 13 of them and the city wants to cut money and resources.”
He also railed against the lack of affordable housing, MTA bus reductions on Northern Boulevard, and the chronic shortage of hospital beds after a dozen hospitals shuttered in the last 15 years.
“This is not fair. This is deplorable,” Taylor said. “We pay some of the highest taxes in the city per capita and we’re not getting anything over here except more shelters.”
Rev. Carlene Thorbs, chairwoman of Community Board 12, which has coped with high shelter populations around JFK Airport for decades, called the influx of migrants “heartbreaking” and said that the city needs to be more transparent.
“We’re taking in a lot of the asylum seekers and we don’t know where they are because nobody wants to tell us because it’s a security situation but we’re supposed to be ready for them in our schools,” she said. “You’ve got to trust us to assist and to help because we can’t even get a list as to where they are unless something tragic happens and then it pops up on the news. It has to be fixed and it has to be fixed now because if our mayor doesn’t fix it, it will never get done.”
Richards promised to raise their concerns when he meets with Mayor Adams in the coming weeks.
“I look forward to the fight working with our City Council delegation as well, to combat many of these cuts that will have a negative impact on our borough,” Richards said. “And I want to thank you all for your partnership, and let’s continue to work collectively together to make sure we hold these agencies accountable.”