Vol. 15, No. 7         March 28 - April 10, 2002


Creative Budgeting Needed to Preserve Quality of Life

By John Reilly

Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion delivered his first State of the Bronx Address on March 20. He presented a detailed and expansive vision for the Bronx with an emphasis on improving the borough's 61 neighborhoods.

The municipal services he proposes, however, are precisely the ones now endangered by the city's budget gap. A budget crisis offers city agencies a convenient excuse when they don't deliver quality services to our communities. I think we can look at a budget crunch a bit differently, however, and see it as an opportunity to fine tune and improve the quality of city services.

Street cleaning is one example. Sanitation workers have one of the toughest and most dangerous jobs around, so I'm reluctant to be critical, but... Have you ever seen how much garbage is left on the sidewalk after collection? There's a broom and shovel on each truck and that's what they're for. This, combined with more routine pickups of litter baskets, will make all our streets cleaner at little or no extra cost.

I'm not one in favor of criminalizing problems to make them go away, like squeegee men and jaywalking, but I am in favor of some enforcement measures that will also be fundraisers. Cleaning up after your dog and keeping it on a leash is a civil courtesy now routinely ignored. Dog walkers should expect a fine for these offensive violations of which there seem to be, unfortunately, an endless supply. It's also an opportunity to make sure the puppy is properly licensed and vaccinated.

Housing is an even more serious matter. The city doesn't have enough money to build much new housing, so we'd better preserve what we have now. In recent years, the city has dramatically cut the number of housing code inspectors it sends out to record violations in apartment buildings. They've also cut the number of lawyers taking slumlords to court. Fewer violations means fewer court actions which means fewer fines. The city could pay for the inspectors with the millions of dollars in fines it's now losing. (In 1989 the city collected $5.1 million in fines, but last year it only netted $2 million. The numbers for next year are projected to be even worse.) Better housing improves everyone's quality of life.

The NYPD also has much to contribute. Commissioner Kelly needs to add noise to his quality of life priorities. Carrion has asked Kelly to send his Graffiti Task Force to the Bronx as well. The Bronx spends a small fortune battling graffiti with virtually no police support. Both noise and graffiti violations need to be backed up with fines and community service.

A budget crisis should make all of us more civic minded. Our young artists should be putting paint on canvas, not apartment buildings. We can pack our trash better and teach our kids not to litter. Be more considerate when you're playing your music. And those dogs running loose on Mosholu Parkway don't get here on the bus from Yonkers.

Local problems often have local solutions.

John Reilly, a Bedford Park resident, is executive director of Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation.

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