Speaker Adams says city can’t afford headcount cuts called for in Mayor’s latest fiscal belt-tightening move

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams during press conference before the council’s Stated Meeting. Nov. 22, 2022.
Photo courtesy of John McCarten/NYC Council

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams on Tuesday pushed back on Mayor Eric Adams’ latest proposed budget cuts, which included a directive for city agencies to eliminate half of their vacant positions, saying the “city can’t afford to lose staff” amid its current municipal worker shortage.

Agency heads were first notified about the new spending reduction plan in a Monday letter from Mayor Adams’ Budget Director Jacques Jiha – who heads the city Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In the letter, Jiha said that in the face of a $2.9 billion budget gap for the next fiscal year that could grow as large as $6 billion by 2026, all agencies must shed half of their positions that stood vacant as of Oct. 31 and that the mayor’s office won’t be allocating funding for new agency programs. Agencies will have to find the funding for new initiatives in their budgets.

Jiha did lay out certain exemptions to the staffing reduction, including uniformed agencies like the NYPD, FDNY and Department of Sanitation (DSNY) and “pedagogical” positions, such as teachers.

At an unrelated press conference Tuesday afternoon, Speaker Adams said she didn’t understand why the mayor would announce the new cost saving measures just a week after releasing his November Financial Plan, which included roughly 3% budget cuts for all city agencies – with the exception of three that didn’t meet their targets – for the current fiscal year.

The plan also included cuts of 4.75% to most agency budgets for the next three fiscal years, spending reductions OMB says will save the city $250 million over Fiscal Year’s 2023 and 2024.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams (right) and Mayor Eric Adams (left) at bill signing for legislation to strengthen services for domestic violence victims. Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022.Photo courtesy of Gerardo Romo/NYC Council Media Unit

“It’s really perplexing why a vacancy reduction would be announced just a week after the November Financial Plan was released,” the speaker said in response to a question from amNewYork Metro.

“We’re scrutinizing it right now, but the city can’t afford to lose staff in those agencies that really are relied upon to address the multiple crises we’re facing,” she continued. “We just can’t. So, whether it’s developing housing, addressing mental health or any of the challenges we need to confront, we can’t afford this.”

The city is down about 19,000 full-time employees since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic over two years ago, a decline not seen since the Great Recession in 2008, according to a report from state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released last week. The city currently has over 21,000 vacant positions, with staffing declines over the past couple of years being attributed to reduced hiring in Fiscal Year 2021 and city employees leaving their jobs in droves.

“We are obviously significantly low, when it comes to the jobs right now, with folks that haven’t come back from the pandemic,” the speaker said.

In response to Jiha saying the administration is looking into new staffing retention and recruitment strategies, Speaker Adams said the city has to do a better job of advertising itself to those looking for work.

“As a city overall, we don’t do our best when it comes to tooting our own horn about the work,” Speaker Adams said. “The work that’s available. The work that can be produced. The different agencies and the work that the agencies do. And the big picture of the agencies and the tremendous help that these agencies provide to our everyday citizens. So we have to get better at being our own best cheerleaders.”

Mayor Eric Adams
Mayor Eric Adams.Photo by Dean Moses

The mayor, however, defended his new savings plan in a separate press conference earlier Tuesday morning, saying the cost cutting is crucial considering the potential fiscal crisis the city is currently staring down. The city’s response will also depend on tax receipts that’ll come in sometime during December, the mayor said.

“I believe that inside our agencies, we have to find efficiencies,” the mayor said. “We have to do everything we can to find those efficiencies to find the best cost savings as possible. And then we’re going to move to plan B and plan C to deal with this budget gap.”

“These are real difficult days,” he added. “And I don’t know if people really realize that. We are in financial trouble and the country is in financial trouble. And I have to be financially prudent to make these smart decisions.”