The pandemic that caused the city’s fiscal crisis is also responsible for a significant chunk of the savings Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson touted in this week’s budget deal, a review of documents shows.
The Citywide Savings Program counts more than $1.5 billion in newly introduced cuts to the budget for fiscal year 2021 that launched Wednesday after landing at $88.2 billion.
But when it comes to service reductions, a large portion were a byproduct of the COVID-19 outbreak — including $50 million in yellow bus savings from almost no in-person schooling planned over the summer.
The budget shows the coronavirus crisis also yielded $10 million in projected savings from lowered hotel rates for housing the homeless; $4 million from shuttered senior centers; and $65 million in anticipated spending drops on subsidized half-priced MetroCards amid subway ridership reductions.
City officials also counted a $127 million emergency federal grant — for dealing with outbreaks at homeless shelters — as “savings” in the current fiscal year.
Meanwhile, the city projected a $20 million payment reduction on debts for construction in prior years.
“Much of the savings appears to come from debt service, re-estimates and savings resulting from COVID-19 shutdowns,” said George Sweeting, deputy director of the city’s Independent Budget Office.
He noted “some changes that would impact services,” but said the IBO was still crunching the numbers as of late Thursday.
Labor Savings Eyed
The new budget also includes tens of millions of dollars in savings from hiring freezes at most agencies — as well as nearly $300 million in hoped-for NYPD overtime reductions.
But the largest labor savings — of a recurring $1 billion annually — were left unspecified, and dependent on ongoing and future negotiations with labor unions to identify efficiencies.
De Blasio has said if those efforts are unsuccessful, up to 22,000 city workers could be laid off come Oct. 1.
He’s been publicly pleading with the federal government to provide the city with funding relief, or for Albany lawmakers to permit the city to borrow as much as $5 billion to bolster operating expenses.
Maria Doulis, a vice president at the Citizens Budget Commission, a watchdog group, said city leaders need to deal head on with an unpredictable crisis that’s bound to stretch past the new fiscal year.
“Not enough was done to get ahead of next year’s budget gaps. Most of the 2021 savings from the agencies do not recur in the following years,” said Doulis. “Target savings from working with labor are budgeted to yield recurring savings, but how they get there is entirely unspecified.”
From Trash to Trees
Among the few programmatic cuts identifiable in budget documents posted late Thursday:
- Sunday litter basket pickups were eliminated at a savings of $3.8 million.
- The deer population management program on Staten Island was eliminated for 2021, saving $700,000.
- Reduced tree pruning and tree stump removal will save the Parks Department an estimated $2 million.
- A delay in moving the city’s archives to an electronic records management system will save $3.6 million.
The parking placard crackdown could be slowing, thanks to some NYPD cuts.
The budget reductions also appear to target a program designed to end misuse of city and state-issued parking placards, as well as illegal parking by drivers who try to evade tickets by placing NYPD or other city agency paraphernalia on their dashboards.
Budget documents show a recurring savings of $5.4 million at the NYPD for placard enforcement, along with a related headcount reduction of eight uniformed personnel and 108 civilians.
NYPD officials didn’t respond to questions about the fate of the enforcement program — part of the mayor’s ongoing struggle to deal with unchecked illegal parking.