NYC’s 2011 Budget: Who Speaks for Parks?

A water filtration pond in Conference House Park, 2009, before the damage

A water filtration pond in Conference House Park, 2009, before the nor'easter damage in 2010

Dr. Marcia Van Wagner, assistant comptroller in the New York City Comptroller’s Office, talked about the NYC budget Monday, May 17, 2010, on Staten Island.

Here are some highlights:

  • Financially, New York City is the fourth largest government in the U.S. The federal government manages the most money, followed by California, New York State, and then New York City.
  • Because of the Financial Emergency Act, passed in the 1970s when the city was about to go bankrupt, the city must balance its budget and also keep a reserve of at least $100 million (in practice, the cushion is $300 million).
  • The city gets 60 percent of its revenues from taxes and most of the rest from the state and federal governments. Total revenues in fiscal year 2010 (from July 1 to June 30) were $60 billion.
  • Fifty-seven percent of the money was spent on salaries, pensions, and benefits. The rest was spent on social services (17 percent), contracts, and other non-personnel expenses.
  • Breaking down expenditures by function, 30 percent was spent on education (including salaries), 20 percent on social services, 13 percent on public safety (police, fire), 16 percent on pensions and benefits, and the rest on environmental protection, sanitation, health, and paying off debt.
  • The city has a nifty acronym for methods used to balance the budget: PEG, or “Programs to Eliminate the Gap.” Van Wagner offered a few examples: Increasing parking-ticket fees would be a revenue PEG. Eliminating fire houses would be an expense PEG.

Van Wagner said that the comptroller’s office publishes a geographic breakdown three times a year, and cleverly displayed the Staten Island breakdown (unlike the local papers—the Daily News gives Staten Island readers Brooklyn special sections and the New York Times gives us New Jersey metropolitan information).

Here’s when I started to worry about Conference House Park. Most city programs on Staten Island show no change or even a small rise in funding for 2011.The Fire Department loses the most, $4 million, because firehouses are being closed. Sewer maintenance drops by $31,000.

But Parks and Recreation loses $69,000 from Forestry & Horticulture, $61,000 in Recreation Services, and $1.14 million from Parks & Playground Maintenance, for a total of $1.27 million.

At Conference House Park, on April 6, someone clipped the padlocks on the boom gates that restrict access to the trails and pulled chunks of metal out of the park, presumably to sell as scrap. This was after the nor’easter in March wiped out part of the beach next to the trail.

Broken bridge on a Conference House trail

Broken bridge on a Conference House trail

Damaged bird blind at Conference House Park

Damaged bird blind at Conference House Park

In addition, yesterday one of the Parks employees noticed that someone had girdled three 60- to 80-year-old oak trees and cleared the brush inside the park opposite his or her house.

How is this damage going to be repaired? Can it be done before June 30, the end of FY2010, when the forestry and maintenance money is cut?

Quite rightly, teachers protest in front of the Borough President’s office, neighbors are up in arms about firehouse closings, and the NY Public Library pushes petitions on all its Facebook friends and readers who come into the branch libraries. But who speaks for Parks?

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One Response to “NYC’s 2011 Budget: Who Speaks for Parks?”

  1. Kirsten Says:

    Hear hear. The number of people we get in the Visitors’ Center daily telling us about trails that need to be cleared or litter on the beach are astounding. It’s a shame that we can’t help them, nor can we refer them to people who can, since the cuts mean such short staffing. And you raise a great point: this is BEFORE the cuts. What happens out here–a beautiful park that isn’t in Bloomberg’s direct line of sight–after there’s even less money?

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