Opening Remarks at the Parks Committee's FY 2018 Executive Budget Hearing

Council Member Mark D. Levine, Chair of the Committee on Parks and Recreation

Opening Statement at the Fiscal Year 2018 Executive Budget Hearing -- May 18, 2017

Good afternoon, and welcome to the Parks and Recreation Committee’s Hearing on the Fiscal Year 2018 Executive Budget for the Department of Parks and Recreation. My name is Mark Levine and I am the Chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee.

In keeping with the budget process mandated by the City Charter that will ultimately lead to the adoption of the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, today we will hear testimony from the Department of Parks and Recreation on its Expense and Capital Budgets for Fiscal Year 2018.

During our Preliminary Budget hearing in March, we called for a robust parks budget to meet the needs of the city’s growing population at a time with park use is surging.  We specifically called for:

  • 80 PEP officers to address the recent uptick in parks crime;

  • 50 new Urban Park Rangers;  

  • 10 new outreach coordinators for Partnership for Parks; and

  • Funding to permanently expand the City’s beach and pool season by a week beyond Labor Day.

Unfortunately, none of these needs were addressed in the executive budget.

Most egregiously of all, the executive budget fails to baseline $9.7 million for critical park maintenance workers, which would lead to a loss of 50 gardeners and 100 CPWs who would be laid off as of June 30th--depriving our parks of sorely needed staffing, and depriving 150 hard-working New Yorkers of their livelihood.  These workers are critical to the success of the Community Parks Initiative--a key administration priority--so the fact that again this year it falls on the Council to save these positions is proof that the budget dance has indeed returned.  

In total, the executive budget proposes a reduction in headcount of 183 positions.  There was some confusion on this point at our last hearing so I want to be clear: the budget as adopted last year included 7,646 full-time equivalent positions for the Parks Department.  The budget now being proposed by the administration would reduce this to 7,463 positions.  We need to understand what impact these cuts will have on our parks system.

The news on the capital side of the executive budget is better.  I applaud the administration for committing $100M to build a new promenade in the East River between 53rd and 61st streets. The space would close one of the largest gaps in the 32-mile Manhattan Waterfront Greenway.  I also welcome the administration's recent commitment of $160M to acquire the remaining parcel of the future Bushwick Inlet Park, fulling the city’s pledge to the surrounding community.

Together the East River Promenade and Bushwick Inlet Park projects represent a welcome return to an era of major, $100M+ parks expansion efforts.  But I hope this will be the beginning, not the end, of such investments--because compelling projects still remain on the drawing board in low- and moderate-income communities around the city, the kinds of communities which have rarely, if ever, seen these levels of investments.

The projects as yet unfunded include the inspiring proposal to deck over part of the BQE to create a new green space in park-starved Bushwick.

And a plan to daylight Tibbett’s Brook in the Northwest Bronx, undoing the damage done to nature in generations past.

In the Northeast Bronx, Orchard Beach requires tens of millions in additional investment to revitalize it after decades of deterioration.

And of course let’s not forget the Queensway, a miles-long linear park that would make use of an abandoned rail line to connect many underserved neighborhoods in central and southeast Queens.

Making this kind of investment would have a transformative impact in neighborhoods where the potential for private contributions is minimal and where the City itself has underinvested for years.  

A thriving park system isn’t just a luxury in a dense city approaching 9 million people. It’s essential to livability--especially in low income communities. We need to create a parks budget worthy of this great city.

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