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Union leaders say proposed budget cuts would inch the city toward crisis


Fearful that residents will be deprived of crucial city services, leaders of municipal unions are calling on Mayor Eric Adams to dial back his call for across-the-board budget cuts he said were an imperative fiscal response to the mass influx of asylum seekers.

Unlike recent so-called “programs to eliminate the gap,” or PEGs, those Adams announced Saturday order every city agency, including uniformed services, to submit plans that reduce their city-funded spending by 5 percent by the November budget update. They must submit similar formulas outlining further 5 percent cuts by the preliminary budget’s January deadline and plans outlining another 5 percent in reductions by April, when the executive budget is due. 

“It is going to be impossible for the NYPD to significantly reduce overtime unless it fixes its staffing crisis,” the Police Benevolent Association’s president, Patrick Hendry, said in a statement. “We are still thousands of cops short, and we’re struggling to drive crime back to pre-2020 levels without adequate personnel.”

Paul DiGiacomo, the president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, called the mayor’s directive “untenable for NYPD Detectives.” 

“They are already overworked due to the thousands less in their rank, and now they are being asked to do even more with even less. City Hall better be ready to explain more highly experienced Detectives leaving the job — and the predictable increases in crime.”

While the NYPD’s preliminary $5.44 billion spending plan for this fiscal year, which ends June 30, included a $19 million cut to meet earlier PEG requirements, those were achieved by eliminating civilian positions. The department could now be obliged to slow its recruitment efforts, something the PBA’s Hendry opposes. “If City Hall wants to save money without jeopardizing public safety, it needs to invest in keeping experienced cops on the job,” he said. 

The NYPD most recent figures count 33,582 officers as of July 10, some 1,550 cops short of the department’s budgeted uniformed headcount for FY 2024.

Oren Barzilay, president of DC 37's Local 2507, which represents about 4,000 FDNY EMS workers and fire protection inspectors, said the prospect of budget trims to the fire department was “alarming.”

"We understand the city is going through a crisis and that the federal government is not helping the mayor, however our call volume is constantly going up. It's more work and no increase in manpower,” he said Tuesday. "A lot of our tours run on overtime so if they cut that down our response time will obviously go up. … The consequences of that could be life changing."

Citing the lack of “substantial support” from Albany and Washington, D.C., Adams said the city is facing a $12 billion bill, payable over the next three fiscal years but about $5 billion due this fiscal year, for shelter, food and other services for some 110,00 newly arrived asylum seekers. Another 10,000 are expected during each of the coming months. “While our compassion is limitless, our resources are not,” he said during a sober video message issued Saturday

“The simple truth is that longtime New Yorkers and asylum seekers will feel these potential cuts and they will hurt,” he said. 

In an accompanying statement, City Hall alluded to “the convergence of circumstances threatening New York City’s financial stability.”

“Because the city has been forced to bear most costs of the asylum seeker humanitarian crisis at a time when revenue growth is slowing and COVID-19 stimulus funding is sunsetting, the city faces substantial fiscal disruption if circumstances do not change,” the statement continued. 

Although Adams said there would be no layoffs, a hiring freeze will be put in place, even as city departments are already contending with a shortfall of some 20,000 workers across municipal departments.

Laura Pirtle Morand, the president of District Council 37’s Local 2627, which represents information technology professionals in numerous municipal agencies, said that while she understands the reasons for the proposed cuts, a hiring freeze will increase the workload on already overburdened employees. 

"Just because you don’t hire more people doesn’t mean the work stops, people have to be paid, services have to be provided,” Morand, who herself works at the FDNY, said Monday. "It's going to get done by hook or by crook, but you can't be killing the city employees, working them to death.”

She said she expected that the load would fall heaviest on civilian employees in the uniformed services. “You burn people out and people start to make mistakes, it's a recipe for disaster,” Morand continued. 

'A very real situation'

Robert Croghan, the longtime head of the Organization of Staff Analysts, said that while 5-percent trims would be manageable, the prospect of 15-percent cuts on the near horizon are fear-inducing. “Now you get really worried,” he said Monday.

Although Croghan said the size of the city’s municipal workforce gives it some “elasticity,” there is a point where cuts in services become readily apparent to anyone walking the streets, as they did to residents who lived through the city’s mid-1970s fiscal crisis. 

“But it won't get to that stage right away,” he said. Should the city be obliged to absorb many more arrivals, however, the city’s ability to house and otherwise ensure their well-being will become unaffordable. 

Asked if the mayor’s announcement was made out of economic necessity or political pretext designed to jar Governor Kathy Hochul and President Joe Biden to throw the city a financial lifeline, Croghan said it was likely both. “It should be both, actually. The two are always connected,” he said. “So there's no question that in my mind the mayor is probably facing a very real situation here economically. He's responding politically as well. That's kind of his job. He has to.” 

And while the city’s finances might not be in the dire shape suggested by Adams, Croghan continued, were the city to continue single-handedly finance its growing debt, it would risk losing future support from state and federal sources. 

But Michael Mulgrew, who represents more than 130,000 employees in the city's public schools as president of the United Federation of Teachers, said the mayor’s demands had a questionable rationale. 

"A demand for a 15 percent cut in essential services — in a city whose budget is basically sound —  is political gamesmanship, not a real solution to the problems the city faces,” the UFT leader said in a statement. 

City schools are currently facing a shortage of teachers in a range of subjects, including bilingual teachers, amid an increase of children entering the school system who are asylum-seekers.

Henry Garrido, the executive director of DC 37, the city’s largest municipal union, was similarly skeptical about the mayor’s reasoning. “Budget cuts do not happen in a vacuum. Cuts to our City’s agencies equal cuts to the services that New Yorkers depend on,” he said in a statement. 

Although Garrido acknowledged that the number of asylum seekers “present imminent challenges” to the municipal budget, further cuts, in personnel and money, to city agencies will make it impossible to deliver expected services. “It is times like this, when we face severe challenges, that we should invest in services to support and protect our most vulnerable, not reverse course and cut back,” he continued.  

Adams’ announcement followed his remarks a few days earlier that the sizable flow of asylum seekers “will destroy New York City,” for which he was by turns roundly criticized and praised. 

“The city we knew, we’re about to lose,” he said Sept. 6. 

Progressives denounced his comments for fueling a backlash against the recent arrivals while conservatives praised the mayor for his bluntness. Adams, for his part, said his words were misconstrued by both sides.

At the conclusion of his remarks Saturday, the mayor said there was still time for the state and, in particular, the Biden administration to act and fend off what would be significant austerity measures.

“But these spending reductions are what will have to happen if we continue on our current course,” he said. “This is a national crisis that requires national leadership. It’s time for our partners to join us."

The Chief’s Duncan Freeman and Crystal Lewis contributed to this report.

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2 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • glomedico7

    The one to blame is the democrats in office

    Wednesday, September 13, 2023 Report this

  • Hendrix

    Garrido gave away NYC Medicare Retirees healthcare for raises that he was OK with.

    Tuesday, September 19, 2023 Report this