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Teachers will stay: Gianaris

Economic issues and proposed cuts to the state budget dominated an Astoria Town Hall meeting hosted last week by state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D−Astoria), but residents also said they were concerned about the quality of services for seniors in the community and a proposed rate hike by Con Edison.

The meeting, held last Thursday at Astoria’s PS 234, drew a crowd of nearly 50 people and featured elected officials from western Queens as well as representatives from more than 20 city agencies.

Several residents said they wanted to know whether Gianaris believed the state Legislature would be able to pass economic recovery bills more quickly under the Democratic−controlled state Assembly and Senate.

“The Senate has changed hands,” Gianaris said. “A lot of things we’ve passed so far used to get blocked because the interests of upstate and downstate were different. But we have an historic budget problem. We have a deficit we’ve never seen before and we want to make sure there are no cuts to education or health care. But there will be pain this year and we’ll have to do some things people will not like.”

The state budget for the upcoming year will be voted on later this spring.

Some residents said they were concerned about what could potentially be cut from city schools amid the ongoing economic downturn and huge deficits in the state budget. Gianaris said he did not believe Mayor Michael Bloomberg would not allow large cuts for city schools.

“The mayor has talked about cutting thousands of teachers, but we won’t let that happen,” the assemblyman said. “I think it’s just a scare tactic to get more money from Washington, D.C.”

Rosemarie Poveromo, president of Astoria’s United Community Civic Association, said she was disturbed to recently find that neighborhood seniors who rely on Meals on Wheels for food have often been getting frozen meals rather than previously cooked food. She said there have also been cases in which seniors in the community will not get food delivered to them in a timely manner.

“The most fragile among us are suffering,” she said. “Someone needs to get on the gun.”

Darnely Jones, of the city Department for the Aging, said the city would try to ensure that borough seniors received their meals on time.

But Deputy Borough President Karen Koslowitz said Borough President Helen Marshall recently delivered a kosher meal to an elderly Hollis couple who had not received a delivery from Meals on Wheels for four days. She said the meal happened to show up while she was bringing food to the couple, and the city’s delivery only consisted of one meal.

Astoria resident Costa Constantinides said he was upset that Con Ed had proposed an $819 rate hike last fall that would raise customer bills by 7.8 percent. Two administrative law judges from the state Public Service Commission recently recommended that the utility should be granted a one−year increase of $632 million for this year.

“Over the last decade or so, the PSC has been filled with people from the industry, who have worked hand in hand with the people they are supposed to be regulating,” Constantinides said.

Gianaris said Gov. David Paterson will soon appoint two new commissioners to the PSC. He said he will put pressure on the governor to pick people who will be committed to more closely regulating utilities like Con Ed.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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