14 The Queens Courier • february 28, 2013 for breaking news visit www.queenscourier.com Liu audit finds DOB ‘dysfunctional’ BY MELISA CHAN email@example.com The city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) is falling down on the job. “The Buildings Department is just dysfunctional and incapable of improving itself,” said Comptroller John Liu. “Its inability to perform basic tasks ... bode poorly not just for the department, but for residents and neighborhoods too.” A recent audit by the comptroller’s office found the DOB is slow in responding to complaints, and has not improved or resolved problems found in earlier audits. A 2009 audit found DOB inspectors failed to gain access to nearly 40 percent of properties they received complaints about in 2008. The department also sought warrants for less than one percent of inaccessible properties and did not follow up on vacate orders. Since then, the rate of failed inspection attempts has more than doubled, according to a new audit. The department also only partially implemented a handful of 14 recommendations made in the last audit, Liu said. But a DOB spokesperson said many recommendations in the report have already been implemented. The department has also launched citywide safety campaigns, a task force to inspect illegal dwellings and “undercover investigations” to target illegal apartments for rent. “The department is doing more than ever to combat the dangers of illegal conversions,” the spokesperson said. “The department has aggressively targeted illegal apartments most at-risk for fire — with a vacate rate nearly five times greater than before.” Roughly 20,000 complaints, mostly from Queens, regarding illegal conversions get fielded through the department annually, the DOB said. But grievances about illegal conversions garner a B rating on the DOB’s priority-arranged scale of complaints — the same level earned by improper fencing, exposed elevator shafts and malfunctioning boilers. Illegal conversions have been the root of many firerelated deaths at home, including a 2011 blaze that killed one and injured five in Woodside. THE COURIER/File photo A fire at this this illegally converted Woodside home killed one and injured others. Watch out for your wallets MTA fare hikes begin this week BY CRISTABELLE TUMOLA firstname.lastname@example.org MTA fare hikes that will increase MetroCard prices across the board will take effect on Sunday, March 3. In addition to raising the base fare from $2.25 to $2.50, monthly, weekly and express bus rides will also go up, and the MetroCard discount will change from 7 percent off with every $10 purchased to 5 percent off with every $5 spent. Long Island Railroad, Metro-North and Staten Island Railway tickets, Access-A-Ride fares, and MTA bridge and tunnel tolls will increase in early March as well. Starting Sunday, the MTA is also introducing a “New Card Fee,” where riders will have to pay $1 each time they buy a new MetroCard at a machine or station booth. To ease that burden, the transit agency recently announced that customers can refill their MetroCards with a combination of both unlimited-ride time and pay-per-ride dollar values. “This card is the most flexible MetroCard ever offered and the best way to avoid paying the $1 New Card Fee by refilling and reusing your current card,” said MTA interim executive director Thomas Prendergast. “We produce almost 160 million MetroCards each year at an annual cost of nearly $10 million. Many of the cards often end up as litter in the system, so by refilling your MetroCard, you’ll reduce expenses and help the environment.” But saving the earth isn’t enough for riders that need to shell out more cash in an economy where pay raises are few and far between. “It’s difficult because I will be making the same money,” Lilliana Napolitano of Flushing said about the fare hikes. Donna Reid of Jamaica, who just read heard about the fare hikes this week, was unaware how much more she has to pay, and didn’t know that unlimited rides were increasing Even though Reid saves money by buying a monthly MetroCard to take the bus, she will have to spend an extra $8 every 30 days. She also didn’t realize that straphangers will need to pay extra for each new MetroCard. “I don’t see why they have to be charging a New Card Fee,” while people already have to pay taxes,” she said. THE COURIER/File photo State Senator Tony Avella wants landmark status for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Avella says to landmark the park BY TERENCE M. CULLEN email@example.com Landmark the park. That’s what State Senator Tony Avella wants for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to block development in the area. These include an entertainment center at Willets Point — an area that is technically parkland — along with expansions at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and a proposed Major League Soccer (MLS) stadium. The projects are either inside or on the edge of the park, but only the proposed soccer arena would require replacement parkland to be installed somewhere relatively close to Flushing Meadows. Normal park users, however, will not get the same access to this new park, Avella said, and Flushing Meadows would become overcrowded. “Normally when you have some alienation, and you have some land coming in, you have to replace parkland of equal acreage some place everyone can agree upon. You may actually replace the amount of acreage, but the number of people who use it would be significantly less.” Landmarking includes a review of the park for its historical and cultural value. The independent commission will look at these and decide whether or not it goes to a full vote. “We put together what I think are very significant reasons why it should be done,” said Avella. “The historic aspect of the park in terms of two Worlds Fairs, housing the United Nations for a period of time and the fact that it is the borough park. All three projects require a vote from the City Council, and then approval from the state because green space will be lost. Avella said should the bill go to the state level — in order to approve any removed parkland — he would push his colleagues in the chamber to vote down the expansions. Spokespersons for all three projects were reached for comment, but were not able to respond by press time.
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