OP-ED: Programs Saved and Expanded in New Budget

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:11

I've always loved poring over a budget; it's the ultimate test of putting your money where your mouth is. On June 25th the City Council passed the budget for Fiscal Year 2015, and I am extremely proud to say that this budget brims with good news for our kids, our seniors, our low-income families, and everyone on the Upper West Side.

In years past the city council and the mayor argued relentlessly over how much to fund key city services like senior care, libraries, early child care, after school, community centers, fire stations, and parks. This year, most of those items were not an issue. They were base-lined in the budget -- agreed upon at the start of negotiations -- giving us the ability to enhance programs that were particularly effective and add new programs to the budget.

The Museum of Natural History has a wonderful after school program called Urban Advantage: it works with schools and housing developments to provide activities that develop abilities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in children of all ages. I am thrilled to announce that I secured nearly twice as much funding for the program, and it will now reach many more children. (If your child's public school has not yet signed for the Urban Advantage program, I encourage you to contact your school's administration about it.)

Unscrupulous landlords currently have many tools at their disposal to harass rent-regulated tenants out of their homes, then turn around and rent out those apartments at a market rate. There are some extraordinary non-profits who help these and other tenants facing eviction, and I am proud that they will receive much needed additional funding from our budget. These non-profits ? the Goddard Riverside SRO Law Project, the Urban Justice Center, Tenants and Neighbors, Housing Court Answers, and Housing Conservation Coordinators ? have an excellent track record of keeping tenants facing eviction in their homes, and their presence will grow on the Upper West Side.

Two of our beloved senior facilities ? JASA Club 76 and DOROT's Lincoln House Outreach ? were in jeopardy of losing all of their funding. I worked hard to save those programs, and I am happy to report that they will receive full funding for another year.

There are a few other projects I'd particularly like to mention. Riverside Park will get some necessary repairs, including reconstructing the sidewalk between 91st and 96th streets and renovating the skate park at 109th street. The public housing in our district will see improvements to their playgrounds and security systems. Our food pantries will receive increases in food for their ever-growing lines. John Jay College and several local public schools will have library and computer upgrades. In addition, we will see more money for cleaner streets ? something I know Upper West Siders are concerned about.

Allocating funds is useless if those funds are not spent appropriately. For that reason the Council will now require more detailed feedback on how the money is being used and whom it is serving. Data will be collected and reported in 17 areas including teacher headcount, workforce one placements, capital spending, charter school enrollment, and wait times in Department of Health clinics. This additional transparency will ensure that every dollar is well spent. All in all, it's a good news budget: prudent, responsible, and fair.

Helen Rosenthal represents the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the City Council.