OPENING STATEMENT: COMMITTEE ON PARKS AND RECREATION FISCAL 2015 PRELIMINARY BUDGET HEARING

 Good afternoon, my name is Mark Levine and I am the Chair of the City Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee. I would like to welcome you all to the Committee’s Hearing on the Fiscal 2015 Preliminary Budget and the Fiscal 2014 Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

In accordance with the budget process as mandated by the City Charter--which will ultimately lead to the adoption of the Fiscal 2015 budget--today we will hear testimony from the Department of Parks and Recreation on its Expense and Capital Budgets for FY 2015.

 

As outlined in the Committee briefing memo, the Department’s proposed FY 15 expense budget totals $384.9 million, which is $4.6 million more than the Fiscal 2014 Adopted Budget. However, in real terms, accounting for inflation, this represents a slight cut.  This also represents a small drop of the parks budget as a percent of the total city budget.  

Moreover, a broader view shows us that by an objective measure New York City under-funds its parks system.  We devote only about 0.5% of our budget to our green spaces, less than most other big cities in America--ranging from Chicago to Seattle to Los Angeles.  

New York City’s parks budget has stagnated for years, at a time when we have added significant acreage to our system, and at a time when parks usership has reached record levels.  The Parks Department has worked heroically to “do more with less” under these challenging conditions and has largely succeeded. But sometimes the reality is that we simply do less with less. The long lead-time between tree trimmings and the lack of PEP officers are just two of the manifestations of this reality.

The department’s system for rating parks on cleanliness and other general conditions show steady improvement over the years, to the point where today 85% of parks have been rated “in satisfactory condition” by the Parks Department--a percentage that the Parks Department should be proud of considering the challenging fiscal environment.

But if you are someone whose park is among the 15% which are unsatisfactory, these stats are nothing to cheer about.  And we need to ask ourselves: where are these 15% of parks?   Are they in the city’s toniest neighborhoods?  Are they on the Upper East Side or in Downtown Brooklyn? Most likely, the answer to that question is no. In part this is because many parks in wealthier neighborhoods have private conservancies which funnel millions of dollars to park maintenance.  

 

The impact of this private funding has been an unmitigated plus for many of our city’s most beloved and heavily visited parks. But it has created a political environment in which it has been acceptable to allow public sector funding to stagnate. That must change.  And as mayor de Blasio and newly appointed Park Commissioner Silver have made change, a focus on equity between privately funded parks and the broader system is at the center or our agenda.

 

There is already some good news in the mayor’s preliminary proposal for the Parks budget.  Unlike in past years, the FY 15 budget does not include any Programs to Eliminate the Gap (PEGs). This is because all of the funding restorations that were made by this Council in the last budget adoption--including restorations for pools, playground associates and tree stump removals--were baselined in the November Plan. Similarly, all of the funding that the Council successfully negotiated with the Administration to restore in the last budget--including $16.8 million for the JTP program and $11 million for seasonal workers--are also baselined.   

However, despite these restorations, it is clear that there are still areas in the Department’s budget that desperately need additional enhancements, both in funding and in staffing levels. Particularly, I am referring to the Department’s capital program area, its PEP officers funding, and its maintenance program area.

 

As such, we hope to hear from the Department on how these areas I have just mentioned can be improved.

The Committee also looks forward to hearing the Department’s testimony on several important issues, including the continuing recovery efforts from Superstorm Sandy, the job training participants (JTP) program, the Department’s efforts to ensure safety in parks, the status of its PlaNYC initiatives, headcount changes, and the four-year Capital Plan.

We will now hear from Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanaugh of the Department of Parks and Recreation. We look forward to continuing to work with Mr. Kavanaugh and with Commissioner Silver who will be officially leading the agency beginning in May of this year.

Before we hear from the Commissioner, I would like to acknowledge my colleagues who are present…

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