Comments on the Preliminary Budget FY 19 by Bronx Residents

April 9th, 2018 Posted in Bronx Parks Speak Up Learn Up, Communications Committee Work, Communications Work, Front Page News, Harlem River BOA, Harlem River Long Term Control Plan, Harlem River Working Group, Harlem River Yards Park Greenway, NYC Parks Department, Parks Committee, sustainable parks, Van Cortlandt Park, Water Committee

April 9, 2018

New York City Council Committee on Parks and Recreation, by email

Dear Council Members Gibson and Grodenchik,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Preliminary Budget Hearing for the Department of Parks and Recreation (Parks).  As you probably remember, some of our group attended the hearing.  All of us felt the need to add to specific comments.  Most of us are members of the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality (BCEQ).

We hope you become strong advocates for our city’s parkland by exercising your voices to advocate for a higher budget for the agency.  Toward that end, we want to identify some areas where this can be more meaningful.

In general terms, the information we reviewed from the attached report prepared by your staff, shows that the some of the areas include budgets that are less than the previous year, decreased by staffing headcount, or decreased by millions of dollars.  While some of these are budget quirks, this seems troublesome, nonetheless.  Hopefully, your committee has come up with an additional comment to the Mayor about these inconsistencies.

  • The Department’s Fiscal 2019 Preliminary Budget includes $174.2 million for Citywide Maintenance and Operations, $2.5 million less than the Fiscal 2018 Adopted Budget of $176.6 million. ….The Fiscal 2019 Preliminary Budget includes 1,802 positions for this program area, a decrease of 38 positions when compared to the Fiscal 2018 Adopted Budget number of 1,840 positions.[1]
  • The Department’s Fiscal 2019 Preliminary Budget includes $50.4 million and 596 positions for the Capital program area, a decrease of $6.7 million when compared to last year, but an increase of 10 headcount positions.[2]
  • Preliminary Capital Plan for the DPR for Fiscal 2018-2022 has decreased by more than $706 million to a total of $4.1 billion, …[3]

In addition, the part that describes the Council Initiatives, calls out some needs.  Will these be included in the Committee’s report and budget requests, and will they be increased.  Finally, could we get a list of which parks the Parks Equity Initiative funded?

  • The Council $9.6 million in the Fiscal 2018 Adopted Budget to support additional maintenance workers within the Department was not baselined. This means all 150 workers associated with this funding are in jeopardy beginning in Fiscal 2019.[4]
  • The Parks Equity Initiative (PEI), a City Council-funded effort to help build a more equitable park system, was funded.[5]

Specifically, there are other areas we did not add to our comments during the Budget Hearing on Parks.  We note that three of the major capital projects are in Flushing Meadow Park and  agree that those projects should be funded, but we want to add several projects—for all parks and for Van Cortlandt Park, a joint interest area and regional park.  We can describe more projects of inter-agency uses, at a later time.

  1. Add a natural areas in house team for Van Cortlandt Park. We requested the funding of five in-house maintenance teams (with carpenters, plumbers, electricians, masons, etc.) to do one project per borough for this next year – a proven efficient program.  We want to add one more in-house maintenance team specifically for the natural areas of parks.  The Natural Areas In-House Maintenance Team could be staffed as per Natural Resources Group (carpenters, gardeners, landscape architects, etc.) to fix trails and/or small projects like the Birding Bridge in Van Cortlandt Park.
  1. Van Cortlandt Park Lake is impaired and has been on the 303d list since 2002. Currently, Parks does not have funding to do water quality monitoring to address various problems associated with the inputs to the waterbody.  We request the Natural Areas Maintenance Team be able to evaluate the status of the lake in order to be good stakeholders.  The results of the monitoring should be made public.  Local non-profits had to help fund the existing monitoring project to keep it going.
  1. The Van Cortlandt Park Lake has a “weir” at the southern end of the waterbody sometimes gets clogged and needs to be cleaned out. At the present time, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has to be called to do this because they added a gate – relying on someone’s observation.  This is a constant problem and should have specific funding. This is an important management technique for the health of Van Cortlandt Park Lake– keeping the water moving.
  1. Keeping the water moving, by the way, is the purpose of the Daylighting of Tibbett’s Brook. How can this project get funded?  A ridiculous amount of water comes through the wetlands and lake to the “weir” and down the drain into the Broadway sewer.  The daylighting idea could be a worthy project but very expensive from a Parks Capital Budget item.  In reality, it is an environmental problem – either abating combine or separate sewer overflows, or creating a sustainable flood prevention program.
  1. Daylighting Tibbetts Brook will re-direct the water flow out of the weir and toward the Harlem River. To do this, the Putnam Rail trail south of Van Cortlandt Park has to be purchased.  Much of this property has been zoned parkland, but this “park” belongs to CSX, not the city.  While ongoing negotiations are coming to a decision point, where are funds not only for the purchase, but to design the greenway as a daylighting project for Tibbetts Brook?  It is actually part of the environmental discussion of 4 above.
  1. The idea of a greenway along the old Putnam Railroad does not end at the Harlem River. For many years, the community has worked toward creating a Harlem River Greenway along the waterfront of the River.  Much of the land along this waterfront is city-owned parkland in a formerly industrial area that has no sewers.  We believe the creation of this linear park is an environmental and sustainable method to absorb and clean the runoff before it goes into the Harlem River.  The river is also on the impaired 303d list.
  1. Depot Place or Bridge Park South (as in Highbridge) is currently in design to be a new park on the waterfront. It will be one of the first waterfront developments at the level of the water on the Bronx side.  When can this be funded?  The greenway will be a way for people to bike or walk to work through various connections and bridges throughout the network.  Currently, this is quite a transportation challenge.
  1. For close to twenty years, the community has been waiting for the Van Cortlandt Park West/East Pedestrian Bridge over the Major Deegan Expressway. Four years ago, $12 million in funding was committed.  Recently we learned that the cost nearly doubled.  We also learned that the DEP suddenly decided the site was not appropriate.  This preferred site was chosen from several alternatives offered in a feasibility study commissioned by the DEP about six years ago.  Today, this project is managed by the DDC and is in need of funding, or downsizing.

We are including some reports we have relied upon to aid us in our discussions.  One is from the Independent Budget Office and reviews actual costs from the Parks Department by borough for staff and costs for the only year available FY 2016.  The second is the report from the Parks Department to the Bronx Parks Speak Up in March 2018, which has important information for the boroughs and to understand funding and the size of each area.

Finally, we are looking forward to reviewing the next stages of the Expense, Capital, and Revenue Budget – the April 26 release of the Mayor’s Executive Budget, the May 6 Borough President’s response to the Executive Budget, and the May 6 – May 25 City Council public hearings on the Executive Budget. We hope to attend the next set of public hearings and intend to continue comments as the City Council negotiates changes to the Executive Budget and then votes to approve a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

We would like to invite you to speak at a meeting of the BCEQ Learn Up, which is meeting on May 10 at the Leo Engineering Building of Manhattan College.  Please RSVP if you can attend and we will send the logistics, or if you would prefer, schedule another time.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Signed,

Karen Argenti, BCEQ (Karen@bceq.org or 646-529-1990)

Christina Taylor, Executive Director, Friends of Van Cortlandt Park

Jane Sokolow, BCEQ

Dr. Robert Fanuzzi, BCEQ

Joyce Hogi, President, BCEQ

Attachments ( City Council Report link below) Parks Comparison by Borough by IBO,  Bronx Speak up presentation Feb 23 2018

Copy Bronx Council Members

[1] Finance Division Briefing Paper, Department of Parks and Recreation, Maintenance and Operations Citywide Budget, figure 5, page 10

[2] Ibid., Capital Budget Unit, page 19

[3] Ibid., Preliminary Capital Commitment Plan Highlights, page 23

[4] Ibid., Council Initiatives, page 7

[5] Ibid., Council Initiatives, page 8

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