Opening Statement on Mayor's Parks Executive Budget



May 20, 2016



Good morning. I would like to welcome everyone to today’s joint hearing of the Finance and Parks and Recreation Committees on the Fiscal 2017 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.

Today, we will hear testimony from the Parks Department on the Fiscal 2017 Executive Budget as it relates to the Department’s Expense and Capital Budgets and general agency operations.

Normally I start our budget hearings with a statement lamenting what a small portion of our City’s budget we spend on parks, comparing to historical figures, listing other cities around the nation which devote more, etc, etc.  But in lieu of this now familiar recitation I want to start today by celebrating the great news of additional parks funding which the mayor and the parks commissioner have proposed in the FY17 Executive Budget.  I’ll start with some good news on the expense budget, before we get to some really good news in the capital budget.

I am pleased to report that the Executive Budget includes new funding in line with three priorities the Council identified in its budget response document:

  • $12 million to increase seasonal staffing during peak months of the year;

  • $1.3 million for additional GreenThumb garden maintenance; and

  • $852,000 to expand turf maintenance crews.

I am also pleased that there is new funding for two priorities I identified in our March hearing on the preliminary budget:  

  • $500,000 to complete the Department’s extensive and informative tree census, which will give every street tree in New York City its own webpage detailing its species, age, amount of maintenance and other useful information.

  • $1.8m for LIDAR mapping and for digitizing map files that will provide improved information for planning purposes as well as greater public transparency.

And of course we were extremely happy with the the additional funding for 67 PEP officers that was included in the mayor’s preliminary budget released in February.

I look forward to hearing more from the Commissioner shortly about the positive impact of each of these allocations.

The mayor’s total proposed budget for the parks department is $480 million, which amounts to 0.58% of overall City spending. 

Not all the news is good on the expense side, however.  

The executive budget fails to baseline the $8.7 million the Council provided last year to increase the ranks of gardeners and maintenance workers.  When adjusted for increased wages, the new total is actually $9.6m. If these funds are not restored it will mean that 50 gardeners and 100 maintenance workers would be laid off as of July 1st--depriving our parks of critical staffing, and depriving 150 hard working New Yorkers of their livelihood.

The executive budget also fails to baseline $1.1m for tree stump removal, which would result in the current years-long backlog in this important work being extended to an unconscionable level.

The executive budget failed to fund several additional priorities which the Council identified in its response to the preliminary budget. These include:

  • Funding of an additional $6m for 80 more PEP officers;

  • $2.4m to expand the pool and beach season by one week after labor day; and

  • $6.4 million to hire over 200 new Playground Associates

Other items that were not included in the Executive Plan that we called for in the Preliminary budget hearing include:

  • Increased funding for staffing and upkeep of the City’s 10,000 acres of precious  natural areas

  • Funding to hire more Park Rangers, of which there are only 30 today for the entire City--down dramatically from nearly 200 in years past.

  • Expense funding for smaller vehicle fleets, which are especially important in larger parks like Riverside, Morningside or Van Cortlandt.

  • Funding for employee training critically needed to better prepare staff for specialty roles within the Department and to train those rising through the ranks into managerial positions.

And now to the promised really good news.  At our preliminary budget hearing in March i called for a bold new round of investments in park projects which are too large or too complicated to be funded with the kind of $1 million or $2 million in discretionary capital which an individual Councilmember can muster.  For major, bold investments in the marquis parks which serve as anchors for their communities we need the Parks Department itself to have a significant new pool of dedicated capital.

And I am beyond thrilled to report that the mayor and the parks commission have delivered.

The executive budget includes $150 million for major capital projects in anchor parks around the five boroughs.

I am anxious to hear more from the commissioner about the plan for how these funds will be allocated.

I hope the plan will include funding for major mid-sized parks that are heavily used and have been underinvested in for decades-- parks like St. Mary’s in the South Bronx, Astoria and Forest Park in Queens, Commodore Barrie Park in Brooklyn.  I hope we can also finally complete the much-need reconstruction of Cromwell Recreation Center in Staten Island.

And let’s think big by using some of these funds to create new parks where they are desperately needed.  Like in Bushwick, where a bold plan would deck over part of the BQE to create “BQ Green.”  Or eastern Queens where creation of the Queensway would turn an abandoned rail line into the Queensway, a miles-long linear park.  Or in the northwest Bronx, where “daylighting” Tibbet’s Brook would unearth a long-buried stream to create new recreational space.

And I hope that we can use some of these funds for a few long-pending projects, which while smaller, are none-the-less out of reach of the budget of an individual local Councilmember.  Projects like the desperately needed renovations of Surf Playground in Coney Island and Quarry Park in the Central Bronx, or completion of the long planned comfort station in the northern part of Riverside Park.

It’s frankly wonderful that we can even have a discussion on which parks should receive investment--investment now made possible by the administration provision of $150M in new capital funds, and I can’t wait to dive into this further.

We will now hear from Commissioner Mitchell Silver of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

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