At a City Council hearing on the sanitation budget Friday, elected officials called on Mayor Eric Adams to invest in clean, rat-free streets.
City Council member Sandy Nurse, who chairs the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, called out Adams for seeking to cut sanitation department spending by $47.8 million in the preliminary budget he released last month. The department has already faced funding cuts and staffing challenges during the pandemic.
The sanitation department “has tried to do the best they can to provide vital sanitation services despite the ongoing cuts to the agency’s budget,” Nurse said at Friday’s hearing. “But those cuts have unfortunately had a devastating impact on the cleanliness, safety and quality of life in our communities.”
Nurse noted that 311 complaints for missed trash collections have increased in recent years – something Sanitation Department Commissioner Edward Grayson confirmed. He said in some cases that was a direct result of pandemic-related issues, such as a staffing shortage that occurred when employees were out sick during the omicron wave of the coronavirus. Nurse said that 311 complaints about rat sightings had also gone up.
The mayor is seeking to save money by reducing the overall number of sanitation department staff in the coming fiscal year. Grayson said there would not be layoffs; instead, some staffing cuts would be made by not filling existing vacancies. The overall headcount would also be reduced by not hiring people who were supposed to come onboard to staff an expansion of the city’s organic waste recycling program. Adams has said the city will save $27.5 million by scrapping the expansion. He has argued that the program is not worth investing in because participation is low.
Nurse said at the hearing that Adams’ decision was short-sighted, because composting would save money in the long term. “There are real challenges to making this work, but just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing,” she said.
New York City Comptroller Brad Lander affirmed that message at a rally that he attended alongside Nurse and other elected officials and advocates in Brooklyn Thursday. They protested cuts to the city’s sanitation budget in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall.
“There isn’t an issue that unites New Yorkers more than trash,” Lander said at the rally, according to a report in the BK Reader.
Politicians also framed the sanitation budget as an equity issue.
At the rally, Councilmember Alexa Aviles, who represents parts of Brooklyn including Red Hook and Sunset Park, said that public housing residents have already acutely felt sanitation cuts.
“From rodent infestations to garbage fires, any public housing resident will tell you that cutting the sanitation budget will lead to more sickness and death,” Aviles said. “And that’s not something this city can stomach after a long and hard pandemic.”