Mayor Adams on Tuesday defended largely excluding the NYPD from his latest round of budget cuts while arguing it’s justified to trim fat at most other agencies because of the “economic tsunami that is coming toward our city.”
Unveiled by his budget director Monday, Adams’ new austerity order directs municipal agencies to permanently eliminate half of all vacant positions from their headcounts to the tune of saving $350 million in city funds per year. The order also informs agencies the administration won’t allocate any money for new initiatives or programs, and that such efforts must instead be bankrolled with existing funds.
But “uniformed” positions are exempt from the cost-cutting directive, and Adams told reporters Tuesday morning that’s because he views the NYPD and other public safety agencies as especially important at the moment due to a recent uptick in some crime categories.
“We have a crime surge that we must address,” said Adams, a retired NYPD captain.
Asked if he’s concerned about the message the selective budget shaving sends to city workers who aren’t in uniform, Adams said: “One thing we cannot ever compromise on, that’s safety. I said it over and over, public safety is the prerequisite for our prosperity, that’s our economic stimulus. If we are unsafe, we will not be able to survive as a city.”
Adams said his administration must slash a lot of costs at other agencies, though, citing a billowing city budget deficit that could grow as large as $6 billion by 2026 and force abrupt service cuts down the road unless dealt with urgently.
“We need to be prepared for the economic tsunami that is coming toward our city. No one is saying that’s not true,” he said.
Adams’ carveout for cops came after his spending modification plan released last week revealed that the NYPD was one of just two municipal agencies that did not meet the budget savings targets spelled out by the mayor earlier this year. The other agency that fell short was the Department of Sanitation.
The modification plan showed NYPD only secured 41% of the savings demanded by Adams, which appears partly to be a result of the department’s ballooning overtime budget.
Adams promised on the campaign trail last year that as mayor, he would crack down the NYPD’s overtime usage — but said at Tuesday’s press conference that now is not the time to follow through on that pledge due to recent crime trends.
“Once we can stabilize this ship … then we can look at really digging into reeling in that overtime, but right now, I have to make sure the city is safe,” he said.
While shootings and homicides have trended downward in the city in recent months, some index crimes, including robberies and assaults, are up, according to NYPD data.
The mayor’s new fiscal belt-tightening did not receive a warm welcome from a variety of municipal stakeholders.
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams (D-Queens), who has clashed with the mayor at an increasing rate in recent weeks, told reporters it was “perplexing” for him to announce the headcount reductions after the release of his budget modification plan.
She also said the Council, at a first glance, believes the city “can’t afford to lose staff” at a number of key agencies in the manner that the mayor’s proposing.
“Whether it’s developing housing, addressing mental health, or any of the challenges we need to confront, we can’t afford this, so we’re scrutinizing it right now,” the speaker said at City Hall.
Rachel Fee, the New York Housing Conference’s executive director, raised particular alarm about how Adams’ proposed headcount trims would impact the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which is already reeling from steep staff shortages at a time when affordable housing production in the city is decreasing.
“The staffing shortage at HPD has led to a 43% decrease in affordable housing production. Permanently cutting staff vacancies will mean making the decreased housing production permanent, which we cannot afford in a housing crisis,” Fee said. “Staffing cuts and inadequate production targets are a surefire formula to shrink NYC’s affordable housing plan.”
Next month, the city is expected to receive updated tax revenue receipts for the year, and Adams said that he might dial back some proposed cuts depending on what they show.
“If they’re better than what we anticipate, then we can adjust,” he said. “But right now, we need to be prepared for the worst part of this tsunami.”