Tucked within last Thursday’s Mayor’s Management Report (MMR) – an annual citywide progress assessment of City agencies’ performance – there’s a chart depicting a dramatic decrease in Parks Department recreation center membership rates among adults and seniors: membership for these populations fell 45.5 percent within a single year in the wake of last year’s decision to double membership fees. This is a far cry from the five percent decrease the Parks Department projected during the FY12 budget process when NY4P testified against the fee increase. Memberships for kids, which remain free, didn’t change.
In our March 2011 testimony before City Council’s Parks & Recreation Committee about the FY12 Preliminary Budget, we cautioned against a proposed measure doubling adult rec center fees and more than doubling rates for seniors, citing significant drops in membership in the wake of past fee increases. When fees were first imposed in 2003, membership dropped 10 percent, and when they were doubled in 2007, it dropped 38 percent (though it later rebounded slightly). Our concern was that while fees for Parks Department rec centers may be less than most comparable private venues, the increases would price out lower income New Yorkers – the very New Yorkers that have the most limited alternate recreational options.
The Parks Department has endured brutal budget cuts since 2008 – cuts that we recently fought against and partially helped alleviate. As we’ve said repeatedly, it’s unrealistic for the City to keep cutting the DPR’s budget and except the same level of service; at some point, New Yorkers will start to feel the pinch.
Last week’s MMR suggests they’re already feeling it.
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