NEWS AND ISSUES


April 2007 Community Report

Dear Neighbor:

The following is a summary of some of my office's activities since my last community report:

State Budget Update:

As I'm sure you know, on Sunday morning, April 1st, the New York State Legislature voted to pass a nearly $121 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2007-08. While the final budget fell short in some regards, there is much to applaud, including fundamental reforms, targeted tax relief for middle class families and businesses, and record investments in education, libraries, health care and affordable housing.

The centerpieces of the budget are two initiatives that will help make New York more competitive in the future. First is a record $1.9 billion increase in education aid, with a significant increase in funding for New York City and other under-funded districts throughout the State. Although Republican Senators ultimately succeeded in winning more than their fair share for Long Island schools, we made real progress in reforming the school aid formula and in linking funding increases to academic performance. The budget also required New York City to devise plans for reducing class sizes and includes an additional funding for public libraries.

A second accomplishment of this budget is $1.3 billion in property tax relief to help middle class homeowners throughout the state and in particular those who have been saddled with skyrocketing property taxes. This, along with health care reforms that slow the growth of Medicaid from 9% to 1%, should help stabilize local property taxes in the future.

We also voted to reduce the base tax rate for businesses from 7.5% to 7% to help keep New York competitive, while closing tax loopholes for out of state corporations and targeting tax cuts to boost our manufacturing sector.

Another highlight of the budget is the creation the Empire State Stem Cell Board to encourage stem cell research in New York State. The Board will disburse $600 million in grants to advance scientific discoveries related to stem cell biology over the next 11 years, with $100 million allocated for Fiscal Year 2007-08.

I was also satisfied with the way our health care reforms were included in the final budget, including, and this was fought hard for by I and my Senate Democratic colleagues, restoring $355 million to local hospitals and nursing homes. We have begun a slow process of reducing the rate of growth of Medicaid, adding the False Claims Act to root out fraud, and redirecting our resources to primary and preventive care where it is most needed.

These are just some of the highlights of this year's New York State budget. Although it is not perfect, and certainly more reform is needed, I am proud of the progress that we made in ensuring that our tax dollars are wisely spent and that our government is more efficient and accountable to the people of our State.

Bringing Back the NYC Commuter Tax:

Earlier this week, I introduced legislation in the State Senate to restore the New York City Commuter Tax, which has cost our City almost $5 billion since it was eliminated in 1999. For more information, please click here to see my press release.

Voicing Strong Support for CB2's Washington Square Park Committee Resolution:

I commend CB2's Parks and Waterfront Committee for being proactive with its resolution regarding the Board's prior approval of the Washington Square Park redesign. Two things have become clear in the past two years of litigation, negotiation, and community advocacy: First, the park is in urgent need of repair; and second, a substantial number of CB2 members feel as though the Board's prior approval was not informed by adequate information from the NYC Parks Department. While the Department's latest plans for the redesign may very well be acceptable to the community, it is incumbent upon the Department to abide by the agreed upon process and bring the plans back to the community for discussion and feedback. So far they have given no indication that they plan to do so. Until the Parks Department indicates otherwise, I think it is entirely appropriate for the Community Board to take actions like passing the resolution before the full board today. I encourage you to support the resolution, which I hope will motivate the Department to come to the community sooner rather than later.

Urging NYCEDC to Preserve Bellevue's Old Psychiatric Building for Medical Use:

I appreciate CB6 making me aware that Yasmeen Ahmed Patie of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) indicated at last month's joint Land Use and Health Committee meeting that Bellevue Hospital's old Psychiatric Building will be subject to a new Request for Proposals process based on its ghighest and best use.h Please see my letter (pdf) to Ms. Patie echoing CB 6's call for NYCEDC to honor CB6's 197-a Plan and the community's wishes with respect to the building's preservation and future usage.

Appealing the U.S. Post Service's Air Rights Transfer to NYU's 12th Street Dorm:

Please see the testimony I submitted at the April 17th Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) public hearing appealing the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) decision to allow the United States Postal Service to transfer 61,000 square feet of air rights from its Cooper Station Post Office to New York University (NYU) for a 26-story dormitory. I am strongly opposed to the dormitory project and urged the BSA to rule against DOB in this matter.

Providing the New York Historical Society an Opportunity to Reveal Their Entire Expansion Plan:

As you know, the New York Historical Society (N-YHS) has applied for a certificate of appropriateness from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to alter the facade of its main museum building at 170 Central Park West. The plan includes widening the entrance portal, enlarging the windows, and adding an entrance ramp for disabled access.

On March 20th, I submitted testimony at LPC's public hearing on this matter urging it to withhold a vote on the current application given N-YHS likely plans for a high-rise residential tower to replace the current stack building behind the museum. Please click here to see my testimony.

Moving Forward in Preserving the General Theological Seminary:

On Monday, April 2nd, my office received word from the General Theological Seminary that it intends to abandon the preservation plan that was overwhelmingly rejected by this Community Board in February, which included a 15-story building replacing its current Sherrill Hall on Ninth Avenue. The Seminary will instead move forward with a mixed-use residential building on that site that will conform to the zoning requirements imposed by the enacted Chelsea 197-a Plan. I greatly appreciate the Seminary's decision and I congratulate the Chelsea community for loudly, clearly and consistently declaring its concerns about the proposed building. Please click here to see my press release.

Applauding Councilmember Mendez's Landmarks Preservation Legislation:

I want to applaud New York City Councilmember Rosie Mendez for her recent introduction of legislation (Int. No. 542) that would allow the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) to suspend previously issued work permits for buildings that have been newly designated as Landmarks, and require increased communication between DOB and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) so that building permits aren't issued for structures being considered for Landmark status.

This legislation will close an unfortunate regulatory loophole in our City's ability to protect our landmarks. As I noted in my testimony late last year before the New York City Council's Task Force on Operations and Improvements of the Department of Buildings, an alteration or demolition permit issued by DOB currently supersedes any effort by LPC to protect a building being considered for landmark status. I urged that DOB make it a policy to immediately place a stop work order on any building that is calendared by LPC for a landmark hearing, regardless of any DOB demolition permits already issued.

I appreciate Councilmember Mendez's leadership on this issue and look forward to working with her, the bill's cosponsors, preservation advocates and others who are concerned about preserving our City's physical history to ensure that this legislation is passed.

HPD's Website Now Allows New Yorkers to Check Status of Housing Maintenance Complaints To 311:

The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) launched a new website feature that will allow New Yorkers to check the status of housing maintenance complaints reported to the 311 Customer Service Center. Through HPD's Web site at www.nyc.gov/hpd, New Yorkers can currently research their building's housing code violations. Now they can also enter their 311 complaint number to check progress on their complaint from the time they call 311 until an inspector comes to their apartment to verify the complaint and issue a violation, if warranted. The 311 complaint number is provided by the 311 Call Center Representative when a tenant first reports an apartment maintenance problem and it is also on the letter sent in the mail to the tenant by HPD confirming receipt of the complaint.

Please feel free to call my office with any questions at (212) 633-8052.


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