From the Brooklyn Paper:
Despite a $3-billion surplus this year, Mayor Bloomberg’s budget allocates only a fraction — just $ 239.1 million — of the money desperately needed to hire the skilled laborers, park enforcement, qualified managers, gardeners and recreation workers among other positions that every neighborhood deserves.
This is a $40-million cut in expense funding from budget from last year. As a percentage of the city’s budget, this would represent only 0.37 percent to maintain and operate parks. It’s a historic low for the agency responsible for 14 percent of the city’s land.
For decades, the public has been told that funding is not available for our public parks. This proposed budget is an unfortunate and constant reminder of how in both good economic times and bad, public funding for parks is simply not a priority. Our elected officials refuse to allocate adequate funding. The political will simply does not exist.
Until 1960, the Parks Department regularly received 1.4 percent of the city budget or greater. However, due to a drastic shift in priorities over the last 45 years, the department’s share of the city budget from tax levy funds has rapidly declined.
With increasing regularity, parks with permanent employees are those that benefit from significant private funds or alternate funding schemes. Unwilling to accept its Charter-mandated responsibilities for the care of its parks, the city has instead turned to the private sector.
In city parks today, adequate maintenance, programming and dedicated park enforcement now depends on what ZIP code you are in, and the willingness and ability of its citizens to raise and leverage private funds. With increasing regularity, the public is being asked to shoulder the municipal responsibility of managing and maintaining what is supposed to be a basic, essential city service — services for which we already pay taxes.
The city’s increasing reliance on these public/private partnerships has resulted in a vastly unequal distribution of services. It has quickly become “a tale of two cities.” Experience with public/private partnerships over the last 20 years has proven that private subsidies to individual parks has created an enormous gap between the haves and the have-nots, while ignoring the real problem — that our parks are not funded as an essential city service.