By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Four Upper Manhattan community boards have banded together in an effort to present a unified front about impending state budget cuts.
Members from Community Boards, 9, 10, 11 and 12 are planning a forum on March 12 that will allow Upper Manhattan residents to speak directly to state legislators about their priorities for the budget.
"We want our legislators to take a stand for the things we need in our community," said Raybblin Vargas, a member of Community Board 12 who is helping to organize the event. "I really believe we will have solid ideas our legislators have never heard of before."
New York state is facing a projected $10 billion budget deficit. Upper Manhattan residents are concerned about cuts to transportation, health care, rent reform and workforce development initiatives.
"Normally, in the past, budget discusions pit one community against another," said Vargas. "The community board chairs are working together and that's the landmark aspect of this."
Matthew Washington, chair of Community Board 11, said he saw the meeting as a way to "facilitate discussion about priorities." The long-term goal, he said, was to "create an urban upper Manhattan platform for funding."
The group first came together to organize a forum about the changes at Harlem Hospital this summer, and when they saw the impending budget cuts, they once again began working together.
"We see how many people are being laid off, the possibility of a doomsday budget and a totally demoralized community. so we had to organize and and give people access to their legislators," said Vargas.
The goal is for upper Manhattan residents to lay out their priorities and give state legislators some ideas before they turn in their proposals for budget cuts later next month.
Larry English, chair of Community Board 9 said communication was key during this budgeting process.
"At the end of the day it's about the community communicating with elected officials," he said. "The mere fact that we are pulling together to do this shows that we are unified."