Category Archives: Youth

The Last (Budget) Dance?

Posted by Doug Turetsky, March 1, 2013

Public hearings on the Mayor’s budget plan get underway next week at City Hall. These hearings are the opening steps in what has become known as the “budget dance” between the Mayor and the City Council. The dance begins with the Mayor proposing budget cuts to a mostly routine group of programs and ends with a typical set of restorations negotiated by the City Council.

While the dance involves funding for services that many New Yorkers find crucial—and are crucial to the budgets of many service providers—there are many who probably wish the annual ritual had faded with the Macarena. For all the angst kicked up by the annual dance, the process revolves around less than 0.5 percent of the city’s $70 billion budget.

That there are cuts in the proposed budget that would affect city services may come as a surprise to those who got their budget information from the city’s social media feed. On the afternoon the Mayor presented the preliminary budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the City of New York’s Twitter feed brightly chirped: “Today Mayor Bloomberg presented FY2014 Budget which will not increase taxes or cut services.” NYCgov’s Tumblr post proclaimed that there’s “no reduction in city services” in the budget plan.

Social media assertions aside, some of potential service reductions in the budget plan were in plain sight. Consider for example, a new $10 million reduction in funding for after-school programs that would eliminate about 3,600 slots from the 2014 budget, the $8.1 million cut in subsidies for cultural groups, or (speaking of plain sight) the elimination of all $2.8 million in funding for eye exams for kindergartners and first graders.

Besides such newly proposed spending cuts that would lead to service reductions, other cutbacks were introduced by the Mayor in previous budgets and embedded in the financial plan for 2014. In most of these cases, the programs had temporarily escaped cuts through City Council-initiated restorations for one year at a time. This is the heart of the dance: the Mayor proposes a cut for the upcoming budget year as well as for the subsequent years of his four-year financial plan; the Council restores the funds only for the upcoming year; but the cut remains in the financial plan for the ensuing years, to be negotiated again and again, sometimes with additional reductions.

Take, for example, the Mayor’s recent proposal to reduce after-school spending by $10 million next year. To offset a cut proposed to take effect this year, last June the Council restored $50.6 million to the Out-of-School Time program for 2013, but only for 2013. (The Council only can vote on changes in the current year’s budget and, come June and the final negotiations with the Mayor, the budget adopted for the upcoming year. The Council has no control over the remaining years of the Mayor’s four-year financial plan). So no money was added to the plan for 2014 through 2017 to cover the funding cutbacks for those years. That means that the new $10 million reduction introduced for 2014 would come on top of the previously scheduled cutbacks. If the new and underlying cuts are not restored, the number of Out-of-School Time slots would shrink from 56,000 this year to 21,500 next year.

Over the past five years, the Council has made changes totaling more than $300 million annually to the Mayor’s budget plan, reversing proposed cuts as well as funding some of its own initiatives. But as the Mayor’s proposed cuts have mounted, the Council’s ability to fully restore cuts or maintain or start new initiatives has become more difficult.

As the partners line up for the opening strains of this year’s budget dance, Council Speaker Christine Quinn has already said she intends to prevent the loss of 2,500 teachers that are part of the Mayor’s budget plan, which will cost about $160 million (although a legal challenge now underway could prevent this cut). She has also announced her intention to restore funding for 20 fire companies ($44 million), once again avoiding a cutback that the Mayor has been pursuing since his preliminary budget for 2010.

Then there are some of the other routine restorations which grow more expensive each year when you count the newly added cuts for 2014. It will take $102 million to avoid a cut to libraries, $78 million for youth services (including Out-of-School Time), and $77 million for child care. Already the list comes to more than $400 million, and that’s without restorations to other Council perennials such as cultural programs, health services, parks programs, legal services, domestic violence programs, and senior services.

This is the last go-around on the budget for Mayor Bloomberg and the current City Council. Only time will tell if it’s the last dance.

Double Fault: Will Mayor’s Plan to Hike City Rec Center, Tennis Court, & Ball Field Fees Undermine His Efforts to Promote Healthy Living?

Posted by Yevgeniya Bukshpun, December 7, 2010

Despite its highly publicized goal of promoting a healthy lifestyle among city residents, the Bloomberg Administration announced plans to double the membership fees at the city’s recreational centers and increase the costs for tennis and ball field permits as part of its latest budget plan. The result may be that a signature policy, whose long-term goal is to improve the health of New Yorkers, may be undermined by a shorter-term goal of balancing the budget.

Children and youth would still be admitted to recreation centers for free, while adults would have to pay $150 per year for centers with pools, up from $75, and pay $100 for centers without pools, up from $50. Membership fees for senior citizens, who currently pay $10 per year, would increase to $25.

Seasonal tennis permits for adults would also double, from $100 to $200, while single play permits would rise from $7 to $15. Permits for ball field use would also increase: fees for fields without lights would rise from $16 to $25 and those for lighted fields would rise from $32 to $50.

The recent history of the city’s recreational centers reflects a persistent tension between recovering costs for services and a broader goal of providing equitable access to recreational opportunities for all city residents. Prior to 2002, all of the city’s recreational centers were free of charge but welcomed user donations. Faced with the economic crisis after the Sept. 11 attacks, the city instituted mandatory fees at all but six recreational centers that were funded by federal grant money. In July 2006, the parks department began charging fees at all recreational facilities.

This next round of fee hikes comes at a time when many New Yorkers rely on these recreational centers and facilities as an affordable alternative to more expensive private clubs. In 2010, 174,000 New Yorkers were members of the city’s recreational centers. Membership among seniors and children has been increasing each year since 2006. Kids make up 36 percent of center users, while about 20 percent of members are seniors. Adults, at nearly half the total membership, represent the largest share of those who use recreational centers. Yet adults may have been the most sensitive to fee increases as adult membership declined by 38 percent after the expansion of mandatory fees in fiscal year 2007 and took two years to rebound. Since 2007, overall membership at the city’s recreational centers has trended upward.

While the 2007 drop in membership may have been caused by more than just the fee hike, given the continued high level of unemployment in the city it is likely that membership will decrease as a result of the fee increases. Access to public recreational facilities contributes to overall public health and the fee increase may seriously undercut access in low-income communities that are likely to be especially sensitive to price increases. Low-income communities experience higher rates of obesity and diabetes, with 7 in 10 residents overweight or obese, compared with the citywide average of 6 in 10 residents.

As the number of adult and senior citizen members increased over the past few years, revenue from recreation center membership fees reached $4.8 million in fiscal year 2010. Assuming a 5 percent decline in membership, the parks department expects the higher membership fees to increase city revenue by $1 million in the current fiscal year and by $4 million each year starting in 2012, bringing the total membership revenue to $5.8 million in 2011 and $8.8 million in 2012. In 2010, revenue covered less than one-quarter of the $21.5 million the city spent operating the centers. If fees are raised as proposed and the department’s forecast of modest declines in membership proves correct, membership revenue would still cover less than half the cost of operating the centers.

The likelihood of significant new revenue from a fee increase on the sale of tennis permits is less certain. In fiscal year 2010, the city issued 12,800 permits to use tennis courts, which generated $1.8 million of revenue. Officials project the same 5 percent decline in tennis permits as in recreation center memberships as a result of the increase in fees. If so, sales of tennis permits would bring in $1.2 million of additional funds in 2011 and total $3.0 million. In 2012 through 2014 the parks department expects the higher priced permits to score $3.4 million in annual revenue.

But these revenue projections may be too optimistic given the behavioral change seen a few years ago. IBO’s previous research found that doubling the cost of adult season tennis court passes in 2003—from $50 to $100—led to a 40 percent drop in sales volume, as players switched to single-play passes. Sales of single-play passes, the price for which remained unchanged at $5 until 2005—increased, yet total revenues rose only marginally from $1.2 million in 2002, prior to the fee increase, to $1.4 million in 2005 following both fee increases.

Whether the city is able to generate the additional revenues it projects will depend on how city residents react to a 100 percent increase in recreation center membership fees and tennis permits and a nearly 60 percent increase in ball field permits at a time when many New Yorkers are still struggling to recover from the economic downturn. Residents may seek out less expensive ways to stay physically fit or stay home altogether and undermine the Mayor’s efforts to keep them healthy.

Some Community Board Budget Priorities Face Budget Axe, Again

Posted by Eddie Vega, June 4, 2010

As part of the city’s budget process, New York’s 59 Community Boards are provided surveys each year that ask them to rank, by order of importance, government services in their districts. The survey lists 90 services provided by 24 public agencies. This year 46 Community Boards, two less than last year, submitted responses. Some top priorities align with the Mayor’s budget. Most do not. (Click here for the survey.)

While there was some reordering from last year, for example, child protection services jumped from 8th to 4th place, the same items appear in the top 10 priorities for both years. Taking care of the city’s elderly continued to be an important concern for the Community Boards; for the second year in a row, services for the elderly ranked first. Likewise, protecting young people and developing their talents has weighed heavily in the boards’ considerations. Programs and services intended to help young people find jobs and access educational opportunities and to protect children from abuse scored high in the rankings: youth development services, after school/summer school programs, and child protection services, took 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place, respectively. Also important were parks and public safety: parks maintenance (down from last year’s 2nd place finish) and police patrols of public housing and transit along with auxiliary patrols tied for 5th place. (See IBO’s blog About Those Services You Prioritized on last year’s Community Board rankings.)

The surveys also identified the priorities by borough. Services for the elderly were among the top two priorities for each of the boroughs except Staten Island, where it dropped to 14th from 12th place last year. Youth development services were among the top five priorities in each of the boroughs except Staten Island, where it ranked 24th. There was greater variation in rankings of after-school programs: after-school was included among the top three priorities in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan, but was ranked 11th in Queens and 38th in Staten Island. And while branch library services ranked in the top 10 citywide (with a rank of 7th), Brooklyn and Staten Island community boards ranked it even higher at 2nd and 3rd, respectively.

As was the case last year, the Mayor’s Executive Budget proposes cuts to some of the services at the top of the Community Boards’ priorities. If enacted as written, the budget for 2011 would provide the elderly with fewer places to socialize and receive services because 50 senior citizens centers serving a total of 1,600 seniors would close. There would be fewer and busier child protection specialists to investigate complaints of abuse and neglect after the elimination of 32 units in the Division of Child Protection and a projected increase of the average workload for investigators from 9.5 cases to 10.9 cases. The parks might not be as well maintained after a reduction of 113 full-time equivalent positions for seasonal workers who clean, maintain, and provide security in the parks; also, four swimming pools would close and the pool season would be shortened by two weeks.

Other youth service-related cuts proposed in the Mayor’s budget include the elimination of Out-of-School Time programs at 33 schools that currently provide activities for 4,110 elementary and middle school children—about 7 percent of the 61,000 youth now served by the program. Additionally, there’s a $2.7 million reduction (7 percent) to school-based Beacon Centers, which provide after-school and other youth and family oriented programs.

A proposed $31.2 million cut in subsidies to the city’s public library systems would have a substantial effect on another of the Community Boards’ top priorities. This reduction, along with previously planned cuts, would bring the city’s subsidy for the libraries down about 20 percent to $247 million compared to this year’s level of nearly $310 million. The Brooklyn, New York, and Queens library systems have said that the reduced subsidy will mean branch closings and shorter hours of operation at many of the libraries that remain open.

While proposed cuts to youth, seniors, parks, and library services are often reversed in negotiations between the Mayor and the City Council, the challenging budget climate for the next few years means that the restoration of these reductions is far from certain.

A One-Time Cure for the Summertime Job Blues

Posted by Nashla Salas, May 21, 2009

It’s become something of a spring ritual: each year teens, advocates, and their legislative supporters seek ways to beef up funding for the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program. Typically, the efforts result in the city or state kicking in some additional dollars. This year offered a new twist as the federal stimulus act provided about $30 million in new funds for the city’s youth. But this one-time windfall may presage an even a bigger hole in next year’s budget for the program.

Last summer, the jobs program had a budget of $54 million, $31 million from the city, $20 million from the state, and the remaining $3 million from the federal government. This funding enabled 43,000 teens, out of more than 100,000 who applied, to have jobs in day camps, senior centers, retail stores, and at other sites around the city.

For this summer, the funding mix is being turned on its head. The budget for the program, which starts July 1 and runs through August 15, is about $67 million. Roughly $33 million of the funds will come from the federal government. At the same time, the city is cutting its funding by more than half to $14 million. The state’s $20 million is basically unchanged.

The increased budget for this summer’s program means more youth can be hired, and for the first time youth up to 24 years old can apply. The additional federal funds will allow the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development, which runs the program, to increase enrollment to 51,000—the highest level since 1999—as officials anticipate a record number of applicants. Applications are due tomorrow.

The one-time federal dollars come from two programmatic sources. One source is the Workforce Investment Act, which provided $3 million last summer but will increase to about $22 million just for this summer. The other federal source is the Community Services Block Grant, from which it’s expected Albany will pass through roughly $12 million to the city for teen summer jobs.

If not for these federal funds, the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program would only have been able to serve about 30,000 teens. That’s where the number of teens able to be employed by the program next summer may fall to since the federal funds are not expected to be available again. Given the large budget shortfalls facing the city and state next year, the annual rite to secure more funding for the program—and provide more teens with job opportunities—could be more challenging than usual.

About Those Services You Prioritized

Posted by Doug Turetsky, March 19, 2009

Each year, as part of the city’s budget process, the 59 community boards are asked to rank the most important services in their districts. For fiscal year 2010, community boards could rank the importance of 90 services provided by 24 public agencies. The services to rank ranged from sidewalk repair to child care to trash collection. The community board priorities are then published in a little-known report called the “Community Board Service Program Rankings.”

So what are the most important services to the 48 community boards that participated in this year’s report? Topping the list is “services for the elderly”—up from sixth last year. Number two is “parks maintenance,” which was also second last year. Third is “after school/summer school programs” and fourth “youth development services,” which frequently overlap with after-school related activities. After-school and youth development services were tied for third last year.

The report also identified the priorities by borough. Services for the elderly are among the top three priorities for each of the boroughs except Staten Island, where it ranked 12th. Parks maintenance is among the top four priorities in each of the boroughs except Manhattan, where it ranked eighth. The ranking of after school and youth development services are more of a mix among the boroughs, though youth development is tops in Brooklyn and after school is number one in the Bronx and second in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

How did these top priorities fare in the Mayor’s Preliminary Budget for the upcoming fiscal year? Well, funding for senior centers is facing a $5.3 million cut, making the total budget for the centers $86.5 million next year. It is not clear yet how services will be affected, whether senior centers will have to reduce the number of people served or eliminate programs.

The parks department budget includes a proposed reduction in spending on maintenance and operations, which would drop from $244.1 million this year to $222.5 million in fiscal year 2010. About 90 percent of the parks department’s maintenance and operations budget goes to taking care of neighborhood parks.

After-school programs are also facing the budget ax. The budget plan includes the elimination of 91 Out-of-School Time programs serving 10,750 kids to save $6.1 million. Because of this and other budgetary changes, the number of youth served by Out-of-School Time programs is expected to drop from roughly 80,000 last school year to 56,000 in the upcoming year.

Senior services, parks maintenance, and youth programs have long been a City Council priority, with proposed cuts restored—sometimes with additional funds—when the budget is adopted. But given the city’s fiscal turmoil and the level of budget cuts in many other programs, there’s no guarantee for the year ahead.