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Uptown Community Board's Night Meetings Banned Amid Payment Fight

By Carolina Pichardo | December 16, 2016 12:00pm | Updated on December 19, 2016 8:57am
 CB 12 is a subtenant in the Alianza Dominican Triangle Building, which is owned by Columbia University and managed by Alianza Dominicana, Inc., sources said.
CB 12 is a subtenant in the Alianza Dominican Triangle Building, which is owned by Columbia University and managed by Alianza Dominicana, Inc., sources said.
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UPDATE: After this story was published, Community Board 12 said Columbia University representatives changed their position and said it will allow Monday night's general board meeting to go forward as scheduled on Dec. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the board offices. Columbia did not immediately respond to requests for confirmation.

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Community Board 12 has been banned from holding any more night meetings at its offices after the board's landlord demanded to be paid for the cost of security to staff evening meetings, board officials told DNAinfo New York.

CB12 Chairman Shah Ally said Thursday that the board had finally settled its three-year-old back rent bill of $338,000 with Columbia University, from which it subleases its office space inside the Alianza Triangle Building at 530 W. 166th St. near Amsterdam Avenue.

The board had been waiting for the city — which uses taxpayer money to fund the cost of rent for all community boards —  to approve its lease and fork over the cash.

But while the $68,948 per year the city allotted for CB12's rent covered the cost of a daytime security guard, Columbia recently demanded to be reimbursed for the cost of the guards required to keep the building open during night meetings — and refused to pay for any more security for night meetings until the dispute was resolved, sources said.

“Alianza has directed us to stop providing additional services, so all after-hours community board meetings and second floor meetings must be relocated away from the Alianza building for now," Ian Deutsh of Alder Property Group, which manages the building owned by Alianza Dominicana, LLC, wrote to CB12, Columbia and Alianza Dominicana Wednesday, according to sources.

“I’m furious about what’s happening to us,” Ally said. “We have to find a meeting space for all meetings until the money is paid.”

Ally said the board holds nine committee meetings in the Alianza Triangle Building each month. He did not share the cost of evening security guard fees or how much Columbia said it was owed. He also said he didn't know whether the cost of evening security guards was specified in the lease. 

Columbia University their office was "working with Alianza/Catholic Charities and Community Board 12 to resolve the issues," but didn't specify what the charges were and whether it the nighttime security costs were included in the lease. Staffers at Alianza Dominicana, Inc., meanwhile, hung up on a reporter who called for comment.

In June, during CB12's executive meeting, District Manager Ebenezer Smith announced to members that the board was able to pay rent for the first time in years.

Smith said at the time that the board moved into the space in 2013, but had to wait for the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to approve the lease — which didn't happen until earlier this year.

Smith said during that time, the money allocated for CB12's rent was returned to the city because it couldn't be paid out until the lease and contract were approved by DCAS.

He said at the time that the Mayor's Office of Management and Budget, which pays for community boards' monthly rent and salary costs, said it didn't allocate money for rent during the interim period “despite the fact that when they conduct the survey, I told them we need to keep it, we need to pay the rent.

“At least we have the lease, and next year, they’re going to pay every month,” Smith said in June.

The Mayor's Office of Management and Budget said it doesn’t specifically allocate money for the community board's security costs. The office budgets for the rent, with each community board receiving $233,911.00 per year that the board breaks up between personal services (PS) and other-than-personal services (OTPS). 

"If security was included within their lease, it might be considered as part of their rent budget," said city spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein. "If not, unless the security guard is an employee, contracting with the guard would come out of their OTPS budget."

But CB12 has struggled to pay for basic needs under its OTPS budget — including not having enough money to pay for translators for the bilingual community.

► READ MORE: Community Boards Have Translation Headsets, But No Money to Pay Translators

But according to an annual list of community board funding — which covers all requested items other than employees' salary, operational costs and rent — the city allotted nearly a million dollars to CB12 in 2016, including $209,065 that included the District Manager Smith's salary and $230,000 for rent.

The comptroller's office, which approves city contracts, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday. But it said previously that it audits at least one aspect of each community board every four years, as is required by the city charter, but does not individually audit each community board every year.

Smith said the board has to deal with the comptroller's office and the Department of Finance to handle it budgets. But despite this process, the board is nonetheless an independent agency without an accounting department, he said.

"Other [city] agencies have accounting departments — we don’t," Smith said. "That’s the way it works with community boards. We need to do the balancing, we need to do the payments, we need to do the order. We find people to clean the floors, and if we don’t find no one, then we have to clean the floors ourselves."

CORRECTION: an earlier version of the story misstated the salary amount for the District Manager.