Redistributing Wealth for Downtown Parks

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Significant hurdles seen for Squadron's bill seeking to equalize NYC park funding

A bill put forth by State Senator Daniel Squadron (D-26) that seeks to equalize funding for NYC parks was scrutinized at a Community Board 3 meeting last week.

The bill would create a Neighborhood Parks Alliance under the city's Parks Department that would distribute funds to parks throughout the five boroughs that have been rated as "unacceptable" by the city in the previous two years.

City park conservancies with an operating budget of over $5 million dollars would be required to become "contributing conservancies," depositing twenty percent of their total operating budgets into a fund that would be administered by the NPA board.

The mayor, city council speaker, public advocate, and the five borough presidents would each appoint one member to the eight-member board. According to the proposal, board membership would "to the extent possible, include active members of park advocacy organizations or those that have experience working on urban open space development."

Squadron's policy director, Matthew Bethell, was at the CB3 meeting last week to answer questions about the bill. CB3 members were mostly concerned that donors would cease giving to park conservancies knowing that 20 percent of their donation would go to another park.

The board members were also concerned with overlap between the proposed Neighborhood Parks Alliance and what CB3 has already laid out as capital priorities for 2014, much of which has to do with park maintenance and rehabilitation.

Of the 44 public parks in CB3's territory, 20 would receive funds under Squadron's bill, according to Bethell. Board members did allow that a lack of funding for less popular and smaller parks is a problem, even on the Lower East Side.

CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer declined to comment on Squadron's bill, as the board has yet to come down on either side of it, but said that she's heard from constituents that well-maintained parks are a priority for them. Stetzer cited complaints about rats, cleanup and maintenance from community members and the lack of enough recreational fields.

CB3 Chairwoman Gigi Li could not be reached for comment.

CB3 recently endorsed a platform by New Yorkers for Parks that supports giving the Parks Department its own discretionary capital budget in an effort to shift focus away from the crown jewels like Central Park and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. The platform also seeks to increase the department's maintenance fund and staffing levels.

Central Park Conservancy spokesperson Dena Libner declined to comment on the bill. The CPC has one of the largest operating budgets of any city park conservancy at nearly $40 million and received a $100 million private donation last year.

The 20 percent appropriation of all funds in the proposed bill - which would include private donations and fundraisers - is likely to rankle park conservancies and donors who don't wish to have their budgets cut by a fifth.

Parks Department spokesperson Phil Abramson did not return requests for comment.

Sen. Squadron, who is running for public advocate, also did not return requests for comment.

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