City Comptroller Scott Stringer
By Forum Staff
In his analysis of the City’s Preliminary Fiscal Year 2020 Budget, City Comptroller Scott Stringer said the plan revealed a lack of financial preparedness for potential future economic uncertainty, and an absence of tangible results despite increased record spending at three agencies.
Stringer’s scrutiny, delivered on Friday, found the proposed FY 2020 strategy relies on numerous one-time actions to balance the budget and called for a goal of increasing the City’s budget cushion to 15 percent of total spending to sufficiently prepare the City for unforeseen events and protect important social programs. The comptroller’s Agency Watch List—which spotlights City departments without demonstrable results for their spending—revealed record multi-agency spending on homeless services, which is projected to reach nearly $3 billion even as the shelter population continues to rise; the Department of Correction is spending more than $300,000 per detainee as incidents of violence increase; and the Department of Buildings has seen a 252-percent increase in construction accidents since FY 2014, despite increasing spending by 62 percent over the same period.
In his presentation, Stringer detailed the budgeting problems his office has discovered at DHS, DOC, and DOB:
Department of Homeless Services
• Citywide spending on homelessness across all agencies has more than doubled from $1.3 billion in FY 2014 to a projected $2.9 billion in FY 2020;
• Spending on shelters alone has doubled since FY 2014 – from $1.1 billion to $2.2 billion in FY 2020; and
• Despite major investments in prevention and housing, the number of individuals residing in shelters has steadily increased from 51,770 in 2014 to 60,366 as of February 2019.
Department of Correction
• In the last decade, the average daily jail population has declined by fully one third, from 13,850 in 2008 to under 9,000 in 2018;
• But over the same period, the average annual cost of housing someone on Rikers Island has more than doubled, from about $117,000 in 2008 to over $300,000 in 2018, Stringer noted; and
• The number of violent incidents against both detainees and correctional officers has more than tripled over the same period, from 441 per 1,000 average daily population in 2008 to 1,354 per 1,000 average daily population in 2018.
Department of Buildings
• Since FY 2014, the DOB budget has grown 62 percent, and headcount has increased by more than 50 percent, to 1,565 employees;
• Over the same period, however, the number of construction accidents—including fatalities—has skyrocketed, with accidents climbing 252 percent, and fatalities by 167 percent, Stringer said; and
• Similarly, while the number of plan examiners has increased sixfold, the number of new construction permits issued has only grown by 13 percent.
“Our budget needs to be balanced for the long term, not just for the next year, so that we can ensure that vital initiatives and services for families and seniors go uninterrupted regardless of the broader economy,” the comptroller added. “To reach that goal we need to build up our budget cushion and conduct a more rigorous review of agency spending to root out inefficiencies and waste.”