Wednesday, June 07, 2006

"City cuts back funding to Parks Dept" MetroNY 06/07/06

City cuts back funding to Parks Dept.

by patrick arden / metro new york

JUN 7, 2006

CITY HALL — The Parks Dept.’s share of the city budget has consistently declined for the last 30 years, and its proposed slice for next year is just half of what it was under Ed Koch.

In 2007 Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to spend $834,000 less than the city’s 2006 total of $212.9 million. But that didn’t seem to bother anyone at yesterday’s City Council hearing on the Parks Dept.’s new budget.

“We’re very pleased that we’ve done well under Mayor Bloomberg,” said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. “The ratings from our park-inspection program are the highest they’ve been in years. Cleanliness is 93 percent acceptable for fiscal year 2006 to date.”

Eye of the beholder?

But according to New Yorkers for Parks’ report card, 40 percent of parks received a C, D or F. Since 1986, the department’s staff has fallen by close to 60 percent, according to the city’s Office of Management and Budget.

Last year the City Council restored $11.7 million to the budget to pay for 600 seasonal employees, tree maintenance and 50 additional Parks Enforcement Patrol officers. That money isn’t included for next year.

Kevin Jeffery, the deputy commissioner for public programs, told the Council the extra PEP officers made a difference. “In fact, it’s doubled our capacity to patrol the parks,” he said.

But Benepe was more philosophical. “If funding is not restored, we will rely on our full-time staff and our job-training participants to minimize the impact,” he said.

These job-training workers are in the city’s welfare-to-work program, and most of them are unskilled.

“They’re basically what’s called ‘stab and bag’ — the people picking up the garbage,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates. “They’re a stop-gap to deal with the enormous losses of funding and personnel.”

Advocate’s advice

“The City Council needs to step up to the plate,” said Croft, who’s conducted the first survey of all 1,700 city parks, as well as area parkland belonging to the state and federal governments. He plans to release his findings later this month. “Three years ago the city allocated the lowest amount historically of its total budget — just 0.38 percent.”

Parks is responsible for 14 percent of the city’s land. It has formed partnerships with private groups, but these have mostly benefited parks in affluent areas. It has had to look for other solutions, cultivating private concessions and touting low-maintenance features like artificial turf.

“In the 1970s we had 4,000 recreational workers, and now we’re down to around 125,” Croft complained. “Our priorities shifted, and the money’s been redeployed.”

After the hearing, Benepe remained sanguine.

“We never like to rest on our laurels,” he said. “Mayor Bloomberg has always challenged us to do more and make the parks better.”


Post a Comment

<< Home