Mayor continues city parks-funding policies, for now

mayor-continues-city-parks-funding-policies-now
Bill de Blasio. (Rob Bennett for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio)
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Mayor Bill de Blasio declined a City Council request to increase maintenance funding for New York City parks in the executive budget he presented yesterday, even as he retained $80 million funding for parks capital projects set aside by the prior administration.

This mixed news prompted a mixed reaction from parks supporters. 

"We’re disappointed that significant additional money for maintenance and operations wasn’t included, but we’re optimistic because there’s really a lot of momentum in the Council, led by parks committee chair [Mark] Levine, to see this through," said James Yolles, a spokesman for New Yorkers for Parks, a parks advocacy group, adding, "It’s great to see that the mayor has kept the $80 million for neighborhood parks in the budget."

Though de Blasio has spoken often of the need to diminish the difference between well-funded parks and poorly funded ones, he has yet to stake out a park funding position that's distinct from his predecessor, who favored capital expenditures over day-to-day maintenance and operations.

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De Blasio had previously hinted that he might move more aggressively to address the city's parks-funding equation.

During the mayoral campaign, in the aftermath of hedge fund manager John Paulson's $100 million donation to the already well-funded Central Park Conservancy, and the ultimately failed bid by Major League Soccer to put a soccer stadium in the far-less-well-funded Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the notion of a legislative answer to park inequity seemed to have some political momentum. De Blasio embraced a proposal by State Senator Dan Squadron to take 20 percent of all revenue from big parks conservancies and rededicate to smaller parks.

"I think it will make for a fairer city and I think it's a great idea," said de Blasio at the time.

Critics argued that the proposal would have generated, at most, $15 million a year, and distracted from the larger issue of inadequate city funding. Conservancies argued the Squadron proposal would alienate donors.

De Blasio has recently hinted he's no longer so enthusiastic about the idea himself. He has yet to offer an alternative idea that would address the issue.

The Council's new parks committee chairman, Mark Levine, asked the new administration to increase the parks department's maintenance and operations budget by $27.5 million, to pay for 15 maintenance and gardening workers in each borough and 150 new Park Enforcement Patrol officers.

"Nothing will have a greater impact on the ground in neighborhood parks then adding more full-time maintenance workers," said Yolles. "This is really the biggest issue facing the department right now."

Levine told Capital that yesterday, following de Blasio's budget presentation, he spoke with the mayor and de Blasio "reiterated his commitment to closing the parks equity gap."

"He didn't commit on the spot to that money, but I feel like there's room for discussion there," said Levine. "And there's not a difference on principle I think."

I asked Levine if de Blasio talked at all about the Squadron proposal.

"No, not specifically," he said. "He did talk about conservancies doing more to support neighborhood parks in a variety of ways. And he also made it clear he understands that there's a role for public money as well. I think that the two are linked. If we're going to try to hammer out some agreement with conservancies in the coming weeks ... then it would make sense to do that in tandem with a greater commitment from the public sector."

The mayor's final budget won't take effect until July 1, following more negotiations with the Council.

"The Mayor is fully committed to ensuring all of our city’s parks receive fair and equitable funding in neighborhoods across the five boroughs, and he has specifically allocated $80 million in the budget for neighborhood parks to support this mission," said de Blasio spokeswoman Marti Adams, in a statement. "We look forward to working with the City Council and all our partners on adoption.”