At Witt's End:Local City Council Members React to Layoffs and Budget Cuts

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By Stephen Witt
Central Brooklyn readers wondering if their local city council members are on their game could learn a thing or two from their response to the recently proposed layoffs of 10,000 city workers.
The proposal came last month from Mayor Bloomberg who wants the layoffs to close a projected $4 billion budget gap over the next two years. Under the plan, 6,200 teachers will be laid off and the rest will come from various agencies and services.
The death knell has also caused District Council 37, one of the largest unions of city workers, to issue a statement that most of the non-teacher layoffs will be minorities.
Bloomberg spokesperson Marc LaVorgna, disputed this, saying the layoffs will be determined by department heads. He did not provide details as to whether the layoffs would be on the upper management level or the lower-paying worker ranks.
Meanwhile, City Councilwoman Letitia James noted the council will hold hearings and start negotiating the cuts with Bloomberg next week.
“Obviously we need to close the budget gap, but it’s a question of how to do it without jeopardizing the most vulnerable population,” said James.
James said among the proposed cuts she is most concerned about are the proposed 200 cuts the Administration of Childrens Services (ACS) plans to eliminating workers in child welfare staff and division of child protective services.
“This hurts children at-risk and further strains agency workers,” she said.
James said she is also concerned about cuts to the Department for the Aging (DIFTA) and the Department of Youth and Community Services (DYCD). Cuts to these departments will hurt meals programs for seniors and after school programs for kids among other things, she said.
James suggested cutting contracted services to consultants as a way to close the gap.  There are also millions of dollars sitting in the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) that could be used in the budget, she said.
City Councilman Charles Barron said he believes the budget is already balanced and filling the gap can come from the city’s $2.5 billion  “rainy day” Health Care Retirement Fund.
“This is the rainy day and we need to use that and do management efficiency cuts and service cuts,” said Barron. “People of color will be hit the hardest. There is racism in the budget because they are shutting down services and our communities are being hit the hardest.”
Barron also wants to see a progressive income tax surcharge starting on those families making over $300,000 and a stock transfer tax.
City Councilman Al Vann offered a boilerplate e-mailed quote via his spokesperson.
“The Council’s Finance Committee will be examining the Mayor’s November Financial Plan at a public hearing next week,” said Vann. “Once we have the opportunity to examine the mayor’s plan more thoroughly, I expect us to put forth proposals for alternative savings.”