CB8 Meeting (March 14)

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The Results Are In: Residents’ Needs Heard During Budget Request Process

The majority of the March 14 Community Board 8 (CB8) meeting, which covers parts of Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, and Weeksville and matches the 77 Precinct, was spent going over city agency responses to budget requests submitted by Community Board 8 earlier in the year. The meeting, which happened at 1000 Dean Street, is a monthly event in which neighborhood residents gather to discuss local issues and make recommendations to city government agencies and offices operating at a higher level. The budget requests in question were the results of months of outreach on the part of Community Board 8. Starting May of last year, the Community Board sent mailings, emails, and surveys to residents requesting assistance in discovering what is needed in the community. Then, in September, a public meeting was held for residents to provide feedback on the needs brought up by residents during the period of remote outreach. The Community Board’s eleven committees also provided feedback on the items. Finally, the budget items were submitted for agency review. Some examples of budget requests submitted this year were “provide more housing for extremely low and low income households” (one of the requests prioritized most highly by CB8), “enhance park safety through design interventions,” or “reduce rat populations.” All the requests aimed to improve life for the residents in the C.B. 8 area.

At the meeting, a large amount of time was spent reading through the responses to every single budget request—forty-two in total—and by the end, they were starting to blend together. “Further study by the agency of this request is needed,” “The agency will try to accommodate this issue within existing resources,” “Funds are insufficient for this project,” were common agency responses. Hearing what amounted to “no” over and over again was disheartening. To me, a Community Board meeting newcomer, it seemed like a strange ritual emblematic of bureaucratic failure: months of hearing residents’ very real concerns about their community translated into succinct, prioritized requests submitted to the city using officially sanctioned channels, and the result was… nothing. However, as I looked more deeply into the role of Community Board budget requests, I learned that even if it seems like the process is about the agencies’ immediate responses to the requests, it is more a long game than it at first appears. As District Manager Michelle George put it, “The submission of our budget requests and priorities is one of the tools agencies use in determining their annual report for funding prior to the opening of the Mayoral and City Council Budget hearings, which ultimately decide how the city's budget is divided.” So, to city agencies, the budget request period is really a consultation with Community Boards, which the agencies then use to inform the budget requests they submit themselves to the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. Additionally, seasoned Community Board members know at the start of the process that their requests will often receive what seems like a noncommittal response from city agencies, but that doesn’t mean they are being turned down. “We do understand that many of our requests require large amounts of funding and some even require policy changes and can take many years to complete. Therefore, we continue to resubmit certain items year after year until all the funding is secured by either our elected officials, the Borough President or the agencies themselves,” said George. Community Board 8 did receive one yes in response to a budget request, causing celebration among CB8 members. This year, the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget is increasing Community Board budgets.

- Jessica Wachtler

To learn more about Community Board 8, visit their website.

UpdatesJonathan Judge