March 9, 2015

 Aya Keefe (212) 788-7007 / [email protected]

NEW YORK -- This morning, City Council Member Mark Levine led the first hearing for the Parks and Recreation Committee on  the Fiscal 2016 Preliminary Budget for the Department of Parks and Recreation. Council Member Levine  called for restoration of last year’s budget increases, including funding for the Mayor’s Community Parks Initiative, which focuses on low and middle-income parks, as well as funding for additional  gardeners, maintenance workers, and PEP officers.  In his opening statement, Levine highlighted new priorities for FY16 including investment in mid-size parks, community gardens, urban parks rangers and playground associates. Levine also called for increased funding to ensure beaches and pools remain open longer for children.

While New York City’s parks system improved dramatically in recent years with better upkeep, improved safety, and dazzling new renovations, the improvements have not been felt equally throughout the city. That fact is inseparable from the decades-long decline in  Parks Department’s spending relative to the size of the City’s total budget. Increased public spending is vital to the well being of the city’s  precious green spaces, especially in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods that lack access to the private dollars that have flowed into parks in wealthier areas of our city.

At the hearing, Council Member Levine cited poignant examples showing the dire need for increased resources for the City’s parks. Many of these examples highlight the dwindling employee roster for important park functions, such as Parks Rangers, PEP officers, and employees, responsible for managing the more than 10,000 acres of natural areas. 

In addition to calling for the restoration of FY15 funds, Council Member Levine called for:

  • $3.5 million for the GreenThumb program , to fund new staff positions and to procure resources such as lumber, compost, and soil for gardens citywide

  • $3 million for 40 additional Urban Park Rangers

  • $3.5 million in additional funding for the Natural Resources Group, which would allow it to deploy a full crew to each borough

  • $500,000  to support a Master Planning process for the city’s mid-sized parks--especially those which are regional draws with high usership

  • $3 million in additional funds for the Trees and Sidewalk program, which helps repair severe sidewalk damage caused by tree and root growth, and has experienced significant cuts in recent years, creating a huge backlog in repair orders

  • $5M added for the hiring of an additional 200 playground associates to build the peak-season staffing level for all playgrounds; and additional funding to ensure beaches and pools are open past labor day through to the end of September, at least on weekends.

Council Member Levine explained that although the additional funding may “all sound like an extravagant shopping list...every one of these enhancements combined would only push the Parks Department budget from 0.55% to 0.57% of the City’s total budget.”

In addition to testimony from Commissioner Silver, the Committee heard from several  parks advocates. Tupper Thomas, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks said: “We saw again today that parks need sustaining like any other essential public service, and that baselining last year's budget is just the start. NY4P is adamant that we need to create an appropriate base of ongoing support for the Parks Department's urgent work."

Heather Lubov, Executive Director of the City Parks Foundation, stated: “We are grateful to the City Council and Parks Committee Chairman Mark Levine for the support last year that gave a shot in the arm to the parks equity discussion for all neighborhood parks. We hope the Council will renew funding for the ground-breaking Parks Equity Initiative to support the continued work of the Partnerships for Parks program,which helps support ‘friends of’ groups around the City and is our best way to balancing the playing field.  We also hope that the Council will continue support for our SummerStage arts, sports, and education programs, focused in parks in the most underserved neighborhoods.  These programs bring New Yorkers into their parks and help build a sense of ownership of their parks.”

Deborah Marton, Executive Director of New York Restoration Project, testified at the hearing saying: “Parks are the primary place in our city where we send a message to all citizens - most poignantly children - about what we think of them and demonstrate how we're investing in their lives and future. I urge strong consideration of mid-size parks as the budget is finalized. These parks would benefit from capital investment, and I recommend and advise simultaneous or advance allocation of expense funding for master planning. Mid-size parks often suffer from a lack of cohesion, as ad-hoc improvements are made over the course of many years. Master planning in advance of a capital allocation increases efficiency, results in better designs and management plans, and also increases opportunities for attracting private donors. DPR could conduct the planning in-house or work through groups like NYRP, who could look at the site with fresh eyes and bring years of experience engaging communities around design.”

Council Member Levine full opening statement from the hearing can be found here.



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