By Ari Ephraim Feldman
May 13, 2022
Last summer, the city’s parks were flush with maintenance crews as New Yorkers streamed into green spaces after a long pandemic winter.
The parks department was able to hire about 3,500 workers, their salaries paid with a one-time injection of federal COVID-19 relief funds, to pick up litter and protect greenery amid another spring awakening as part of the City Cleanup Corps program.
Now, there are 1,800 federally funded workers left, after about half of the original crew has left the jobs.
With a diminished number of workers, the department is projecting that at the July peak of the high season of parks usage – with lawns, trails, beaches and pools seeing daily use – there will be 259 fewer total cleanup workers than last year.
In addition, by the end of the season, without additional funding, those workers will also face a severe bottleneck to stay employed: Only as many as 400 of the maintenance workers could get permanent jobs in the department.
In the final weeks of budget negotiations, City Council members and labor leaders are trying to urge Mayor Eric Adams’ administration to add millions more in funding to cover the maintenance jobs.
They are pushing him to honor a campaign promise of funding the parks department at 1% of the city’s total budget, which would nearly double his last proposal of $600 million, which is down $20 million from last year’s spend. Adams has called the number a “down payment” on greater funding.
Park advocates say that without full funding, the relative drop in conservation for parks will land harder on marginalized neighborhoods.
“There are huge inequities in green space and the care for green space in our city,” Councilman Shekar Krishnan, who chairs the parks committee, said in an interview Thursday. “We need to see a continuation of all the positions we’ve had until this point.”
At a City Council budget hearing Friday, Krishnan and other members questioned parks department officials over maintenance levels and job opportunities for cleanup workers. The hearing comes about six weeks out from the deadline for the adoption of the city budget.
Overall, the city says it expects to have 4,431 maintenance staff during the height of the summer season, down from 4,690 last year.
This represents a “minimal decrease” overall, said Megan Moriarty, a spokesperson for the department, said in an emailed statement. She added that Adams’ latest spending plan adds new funding to support the 400 permanent, year-round maintenance positions that Cleanup Corps workers can apply for.