Yesterday, the Municipal Art Society Planning Center (which staffs the Campaign for Community-Based Planning), submitted testimony at a City Council Executive Budget Hearing on the issue of the City’s proposed community board budget cuts. As we noted this week, community boards have not received a budget increase since 1986, and now face a new proposal by the administration to reduce each board’s budget by $16,000. This cut to the boards’ already meager budgets would greatly impede their ability to perform their City Charter-mandated responsibilities, including planning and other service delivery duties.

The full testimony is after the jump; We encourage you to use this information and contact your Council Member in support of community boards and against the budget cuts.

Testimony to the New York City Council

Executive Budget Hearing

May 20, 2008

The Municipal Art Society (MAS) submits these comments to urge that the city reconsider the proposed cuts to the city’s 59 community boards. The future ability of community boards to perform their charter-mandated responsibilities will be thrown into serious jeopardy if these cuts are allowed to go forward.

The Municipal Art Society (MAS) is a citywide membership organization that works to enrich the culture, neighborhoods and physical design of New York City. It advocates for excellence in urban design and planning, contemporary architecture, historic preservation and public art—part of our mission is working to achieve a more open, transparent, inclusive, and participatory planning process. Community boards are New Yorkers’ gateway to participation in the planning and development decisions that directly impact their neighborhoods. The MAS has consistently recommended increasing the boards’ resources so that they can plan more effectively for their districts.

The average community district has a population of over 130,000 people, making it comparable in size to Elizabeth, New Jersey and Albany, New York. All board responsibilities are carried out by a very small staff typically consisting of the district manager and one or two administrative assistants. Any extra personnel, such as planners, must be paid from funds raised beyond the board’s approximately $200,000 annual budget—which also pays for all salaries, office supplies, equipment, printing, and mailing. In comparison, Albany’s Division of Planning has an annual budget of $370,000 and employs six full-time staff. While the New York City Charter specifies that the boards are authorized to hire planners, it is the exception rather than the rule that they do so—they are forced to choose between planning expertise and basic operating costs.

The city is poised to add one million more new residents; some districts have already grown by nearly 15 percent over the last census period. Community boards will be expected to make service delivery and planning decisions for this new surge in population—meaning that board members will have more sitings of city facilities to deliberate; more land use applications to consider; more variance applications to review; more constituents to inform and engage. We urge that you enable the boards to perform their duties effectively—at the very least, by keeping their budgets intact.