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Councilmember Joseph Addabbo, Jr. On Why the City May Need A Park Tax

Joseph P. Addabbo

More Green For Green Space

By Joseph Addabbo, Jr.

Every year since 1986, the parks department's share of the city budget has gone down. As the chair of the new City Council committee on parks and recreation, I find this a disturbing trend.

I have an idea of how parks funding works and how it ends up affecting everything in the city. Cutting the budget basically means cutting park department personnel. When you cut employees, you cut maintenance. If you cut maintenance, then you reduce safety. If parks are less safe, then fewer people will use them. If fewer people use our parks, they become a place for criminal activity. And crime reaches into all segments of society.

Parks and recreation covers many areas in the city. We maintain miles of beachfront. We employ thousands of New Yorkers - including youth and people coming off of welfare. We play a role in community gardens, where people grow food and form relationships in their neighborhoods. Our green spaces provide valuable services to the public, just like other city agencies. We have playgrounds, ball fields, botanical gardens, golf courses, and swimming pools. And I can not tell you how many post 9/11 memorials and prayer vigils I have been to in our city parks in the last few months. I know many New Yorkers have sought refuge and peace of mind there.

Unfortunately this year, the city again had to make a cut to the parks budget. At the beginning of the process, the mayor had proposed a 20 percent cut. That would have really hurt. I was able to go to each City Council member who has a piece of land in their district and convince them that they had to fight not just for their district, but for the whole budget. We were able to reduce the cut to five percent. And given these difficult times, I count that as a win.

In the future, however, I hope that the city can reverse this trend and find new ways to fund our green spaces.

I am working with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe to increase our private and public partnerships (Read Commissioner Benepe's article "The State of the Parks"). Groups around the city make contributions for using park space and that should be encouraged.

We are also looking at how to use naming rights in order to increase funding. I told the commissioner early on that I was not looking to rename Central Park. We can do some acknowledgement plaques, but we should be careful what we do and how we do it when it comes to naming parts of our parks. I am also concerned that if a large company wants to do something in a park, they will only look to the big places, like Central Park or Battery Park. This would neglect the smaller spaces in the outer boroughs, which have just as many needs.

I believe New York should look at cities like Chicago and Minneapolis that have a dedicated funding stream and a specific tax that goes toward maintaining park land. It is saddening to look at other large cities, to see their dedication, and then to look at the limited resources of New York City.

This year for the first time, our recreation centers will charge a fee. I feel that the current fees are reasonable, but we must work to make sure that this money stays within the parks department rather than just going into the general budget.

The city gets funding from the federal government. At the end of July, I will hold a hearing to make sure that we are getting everything that we are entitled to and to make sure we are making the best use of those federal funds.

This is the first time in the history of the City Council that there has been a committee focused solely on parks and recreation. It used to be put together with cultural programs and the arts, so I am pleased to chair this new committee. New York is a huge city with just a little green space. We must fight to protect, and properly fund, what we have.

Posted July 15, 2002.

Joseph P. Addabbo is City Council Member from District 32.

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