By Julie Shapiro
BATTERY PARK CITY — The Battery Park City Authority ought to be phased out after squandering more than $300,000 in public funds, the chairwoman of the local community board said Monday.
"This was a complete breach of public trust," said Julie Menin, who leads Community Board 1. "It’s really shocking that taxpayer money was being spent on such frivolous and superfluous items."
The Authority poured tens of thousands of dollars into open-bar parties, lavish picnics and nonprofits unrelated to Battery Park City over the past several years, the state Inspector General said in a report released last Friday. The abuses took place under the oversight of former Authority President Jim Cavanaugh and Chairman James Gill, who have since stepped down.
Although the Authority now has stricter regulations and a new leader in Chairman Bill Thompson, Menin said the Authority's usefulness has expired.
Menin isn't arguing for the Authority to be shut down tomorrow, but said there needs to be an orderly plan enacted to phase out the organization.
Founded in 1968, the state-run Battery Park City Authority was charged with developing the new 92-acre neighborhood on Hudson River landfill, work that is now nearly complete.
"The whole mission of the Battery Park City Authority needs to be scrutinized," Menin said. "It’s time that it should be sunsetted."
One way of closing the Authority would be for Mayor Bloomberg to buy Battery Park City from the state for $1 and then to run it like any other city neighborhood, without the extra layer of bureaucracy.
Bloomberg and city Comptroller John Liu looked into that option earlier this year but did not immediately comment on it Monday.
Menin said the state could also shut down the Authority, and she called on Gov. David Paterson and Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo to look into doing so.
Paterson and Cuomo did not respond to requests for comment, and an Authority spokeswoman declined to comment.
Another advocate of shutting down the Battery Park City Authority is Eric Wallace, a resident who has strongly objected to the upcoming tax increases in the neighborhood.
"It’s just outrageous," said Wallace, who lives in Liberty House at 377 Rector Pl. and has two young children. "There’s a sense of entitlement and hubris. There’s a culture there now that’s become counterproductive to the greater good of Battery Park City."
Wallace is particularly angry about the lavish spending in light of the Authority’s planned hikes to ground rent, a fee that all neighborhood property owners pay on top of regular taxes. At Liberty House, residents now paying an average $31 a month in ground rent will have to pay $276 a month starting next June.
Wallace, 37, said he is a Democrat who does not ordinarily object to taxes.
"But I don’t believe in paying taxes when it’s just being flushed down the toilet, and that’s what the Authority is doing," Wallace said.
Still, not all Battery Park City residents want to see the Authority go.
Linda Belfer, a longtime Gateway Plaza resident and chairwoman of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, said she likes that the Authority gives the community a say in decisions about the neighborhood, like the selection of an operator for the new community center on North End Avenue.
"It’s hard to say right now whether the city would do a good job," Belfer said. "I don’t think the actions [the Authority] allegedly committed outweigh the benefit if they stay."