NY4P in Gothamist: NYC parks set for dramatic reductions in staffing, cleaning under Mayor Adams' budget cuts

NY4P in Gothamist: NYC parks set for dramatic reductions in staffing, cleaning under Mayor Adams' budget cuts

By Elizabeth Kim

December 11, 2023

New York City parks are poised to lose more than 1,400 staffers under Mayor Eric Adams’ latest budget cuts, a dramatic staffing reduction that could result in certain parks being cleaned as little as once a week.

The effect would likely leave the city’s 1,700 parks dirtier and unsafer, with bathrooms in worse condition and summer pool openings delayed, according to advocates.

“There's no secret who this is going to have the most impact on,” Adam Ganser, executive director of the nonprofit group New Yorkers for Parks, told Gothamist. “It's people who don't have resources, who rely on parks as a place to take their families.”

The grim scenario was one of several that city councilmembers laid out during an hours-long public hearing Monday where they sought to interrogate the Adams administration over steep cuts in the city’s current spending.

Adams has called for significant across-the-board cuts to close a multibillion-dollar budget deficit driven by the expiration of pandemic aid as well as migrant spending. In response, the Council has argued that the mayor has mismanaged the migrant crisis and that further cuts will erode key services many working- and middle-class families rely on.

“To be sure, we face fiscal challenges,” said Shekar Krishnan, a Queens councilmember who chairs the parks and recreation committee. “But to go after the essential services that our most vulnerable New Yorkers depend on is going to increase income inequality.”

In a statement Tuesday, a spokesperson for the city's parks department said it will do "everything [it] can" to keep parks as clean as possible, including hiring an additional 400 "seasonal staff" to assist with maintenance and operations throughout the year.

"All existing POP [Parks Opportunity Program] participants will be retained through their 6-month terms, and full time POP administrative staff will be transitioned to new roles," she said. "Under this administration, we’ve made significant investments to improve our parks, and we remain committed to ensuring they remain clean, green, and safe."

The spokesperson later said in response to questions from Gothamist that 72 full-time administrative staff from the program would be retained in different positions. But the administration is likely to cut more agency spending next year under plans previously announced by the mayor.

Park advocates have long lobbied the city to spend more on green public spaces, which experienced more usage during the pandemic. The parks department is set to lose nearly $90 million in funding over the next two years, according to Krishnan.

Throughout the hearing, Adams’ budget director Jacques Jiha answered councilmembers’ protests by reminding them the city faces a projected $7 billion budget gap in 2025 that must be filled.

“We have to make tough choices,” Jiha said flatly.

Under the November modification process, the mayor can make midyear cuts to balance the city’s budget. The Council could vote to reject Adams’ November revisions, but doing so would imperil city agencies’ funding in what is expected to end up as a roughly $111 billion spending plan.

As a result, the Council’s hearing was largely intended to pressure the mayor to reconsider some of his cuts, which are set to impact a wide range of key services, including sanitation, libraries, schools and policing. On the eve of the hearing, the Council released its own financial analysis that found the city was underestimating its revenues by $1.2 billion.

At the same time, the mayor is also seeking to signal to lawmakers in Albany and Washington, D.C., that the city needs more help with the migrant crisis, which officials say will cost more than $6 billion over the next two years.

Some have argued that the pain of the cuts is not being equitably distributed. Although all city agencies had been ordered to slash spending by 5%, the parks department faced an unusual double blow: In order to meet its cuts, the city's Human Resources Administration decided to eliminate a workforce program that had provided roughly 1,000 parks staffers.

That translated into a 12% cut to parks, according to advocates. Overall parks spending is roughly half a billion dollars, less than half of 1% of the city’s budget.

Ganser warned that New Yorkers could expect a repeat of what happened during the last time parks saw their funding significantly cut, which came at the outset of the pandemic in 2020. New Yorkers discovered parks littered with trash, spurring concerns about the city’s decline.

As many New Yorkers lack private backyards and parks make up around 14% of the city’s total landmass, they contribute to the overall quality of life in the city, Ganser said.

Not taking care of parks, he said, will hurt the city’s bottom line in the long run.

“If they're not taken care of, the city looks terrible,” he said. “And people don't want to be here.”


Read the article online at Gothamist