Levine, Park Advocates Call To Save Critical Parks Jobs

March 3, 2016

Levine Park Advocates Call for City to Save Critical Parks Jobs and ReturnThis morning, Harlem City Council Member Mark Levine led the first hearing for the Parks and Recreation Committee on the Fiscal 2017 Preliminary Budget for the Department of Parks and Recreation. Council Member Levine and leading park advocates called for restoring funding for maintenance workers and gardeners to support critical park staff and preserve 150 jobs.

In his opening statement, Council Member Levine highlighted new priorities for FY17, including more investment in urban park rangers, playground associates, community gardens, and a permanent extension of both the beach and pool seasons one week beyond Labor Day.

While city parks are stronger today than in years past due to better upkeep, improvements have not been felt equally throughout the city. Although there is a projected increase in the department’s total spending from $454.7 million in FY16 to $459.3 million for FY17, this represents a slight drop in the portion of the total city budget devoted to parks, from 0.58% this year to 0.56% next year.

At the hearing, Council Member Levine argued for increased resources for the City’s parks, especially in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. Specific items Council Member Levine urged to be part of the final budget include:

  • $1M to hire more Park Rangers, specifically those specializing in wildlife management.

  • $11M to further develop and expand the Department’s seasonal staff, including park workers, playground associates, gardeners and other supervisors.

  • $4.5M in expense funding for smaller vehicle fleets, which are not considered capital, and are especially important in larger parks like Riverside, Morningside or Van Cortlandt.

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

  • $2.6M for LIDAR mapping and for digitizing map files that will provide improved information for planning purposes as well as greater public transparency.

  • $1.7M to hire an artificial turf maintenance crew. As the number of artificial turf fields under DPR’s jurisdiction is growing, so is the need for special care and maintenance of these fields beyond the usual seasonal cleanups. A dedicated and trained crew should be put in place to make repairs and better fix turf issues as their arise.

  • $750K for GreenThumb to hire 6 Outreach Coordinators and 6 field technical staff–double the current levels–to better manage gardens and to hire additional staff to implement expanded education programs at the gardens and to help community groups resolve administrative issues.

  • $2.4M to permanently expand the beach season by a week beyond Labor Day, and to keep pools open an extra week for the first time as well.

Citing the grand, transformative projects funded during the Bloomberg years, such as the High Line, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and Governor’s Island, Council Member Levine pushed for a new visionary capital plan that would focus investments in neighborhoods that have been long neglected.  Levine laid out capital projects the Department could pursue, including:

  • Renovations of St. Mary’s in the South Bronx and long-neglected Astoria Park in Queens

  • Deck over part of the BQE to create a new green space called BQ Green.

  • Reclaim lost resources, and “daylight” Tibbet’s Brook in the Northwest Bronx, creating new recreational space

  • Expand waterfront access on the north shore of Staten Island, and connect the growing number of new attractions emerging there.

  • Finish the renovation of Ft. Washington Park in West Harlem, and create the long-planned comfort station and operations building along the River at 159th St.

In addition to testimony from Commissioner Silver, the Committee heard from several park advocates.

Tupper Thomas, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks said, “Dedicated employees are not only essential to the quality of open space across the city, but these are good, dependable jobs with room for advancement. The City can truly CARE for its parks with funding that creates full time, permanent staff, that gives communities the resources they need to be effective stewards, that makes much-needed capital improvements.”

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“We thank the NYC Council, under the leadership of Speaker Mark-Viverito and Parks Committee Chair Levine, for its strong support of our arts, sports, and education programs in all five boroughs and for its leadership in creating the Parks Equity Initiative, which supports our public-private partnership with the NYC Parks on the Partnerships for Parks programming that serves neighborhood volunteers and park stewards all 51 districts. We strongly support the Commissioner’s emphasis on ‘caring’ for parks. Partnerships for Parks, our program that we co-manage with the Parks Department, provides the training and support that is needed in order for neighborhood volunteer groups to be sustainable in the long term, helping to contribute significantly to the city’s efforts to ensure that we have equitable and thriving public green spaces. We urge the council to renew funding for the Parks Equity Initiative to support this important work,” said Heather Lubov, Executive Director of the City Parks Foundation 

“The opportunity to solve the inequitable funding situation in Bronx parks has never been greater,” said Christina Taylor, Executive Director for the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park. However, NYC Parks is not funded at a level needed for the agency to properly maintain and care for all of its parks. We need an increase in maintenance funding to keep facilities in good shape, so they don’t fall into disrepair. The budget should allocate more money to dedicated maintenance staff, PEP officers and other key staff support for parks.”

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

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