Statement on the NYC Council Committee on Parks Preliminary Budget Hearing for Fiscal Year 2021

Statement of Julie Tighe, President
New York League of Conservation Voters
City Council Hearing of the Committee on Parks
Preliminary Budget Hearing for Fiscal Year 2021
March 13th, 2020

Good morning.  My name is Julie Tighe, and I’m President of the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV).  NYLCV represents over 31,000 members in New York City and we are committed to advancing a sustainability agenda that will make our people, our neighborhoods, and our economy healthier and more resilient. I would like to thank Chair Koo for the opportunity to testify before the Committee on Parks and Recreation regarding the Preliminary Budget for Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21).

NYLCV supports the passage of a city budget in FY21 that secures progress on many of the environmental, transportation, and public health priorities Mayor de Blasio has called for in OneNYC and beyond. Our city is staring down a crisis of existential importance, and it is incumbent upon our elected leaders to invest our tax dollars in climate action and solutions. New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation plays a critical role in that fight.

Parks and other green spaces are one of the city’s most valuable environmental assets and are a major source of the city’s urban canopy, which mitigates climate change, provides clean air and habitats for native wildlife, and contributes to the well-being of our residents and economy. Preserving these spaces is a top priority for NYLCV.

The 2.6 million street and park trees that the Parks Department is responsible for remove 1,300 tons of pollutants from the atmosphere and store one million tons of carbon each year. Trees are vital for mitigating urban heat island effect and can lower temperatures by up to nine degrees, cut air conditioning use by 30%, and reduce heating energy use by a further 20-50%. NYC’s parks contribute to our resiliency by capturing almost 2 billion gallons of stormwater runoff.  Furthermore, park use in New York City is surging to record levels, with more than 100 million visitors each year. We should be investing more, not less, in protecting this green asset. That’s why NYLCV is proud to join with New Yorkers for Parks again as a founding member of the Play Fair for Parks campaign.

We all agree that parks are critical city infrastructure. One does not have to look further than the environmental benefits I pointed to earlier as proof. But these green benefits could not be realized without the Parks employees, particularly gardeners, horticulturalists, and maintenance workers, who work tirelessly to ensure the health of these spaces.

For that reason, it is high time to make a long-overdue investment in the people that care for our parks. Last year, thanks to the Council, Parks saw a $44 million increase in their budget, providing job certainty for 150 park workers, adding PEP officers and urban rangers, and making investments in parks in all five boroughs.  In this second year of the Play Fair Campaign, our Coalition is asking the City to commit $200 million in additional funding for the Parks Department in FY21 – $100 million each for the expense budget and the capital budget.

NYLCV and the entire Play Fair Coalition request this funding be allocated in the following ways:

  • In the expense budget:
    • $11.4 million for Recreation and Programming, including more funding for the Kids in Motion after-school program, more year-round staff for after-school programs at Recreation Centers, a new Natural Turf Management crew, and 10 new Partnerships for Parks Outreach Coordinators
    • $7.92 million for Nature and Resiliency, including 15 new GreenThumb staff, 47 new Natural Resources Group staff, and 4 full-time crews for targeted lake and pond maintenance and monitoring
    • $69.7 million for Maintenance and Operations, including more full-time, dedicated Parks staff, baselining the 100 City Park Worker and 50 Gardener staff lines added in FY20, creating a pathway to full-time employment for 100 Parks Opportunity Program participants, creating an in-house comfort station improvement team, and critically needed maintenance equipment in all 51 City Council districts
    • $11 million for Park Safety, including baselining the 50 new Urban Park Ranger positions and 80 new Parks Enforcement Patrol positions added in FY20 and creating a “hotspot” overtime fund for NYC Parks to respond to issues as they arise
  • In the capital budget:
    • $52 million to rebuild 10 neighborhood parks and playgrounds through the Community Parks Initiative
    • $4.8 million for structural improvements to GreenThumb Community Gardens citywide
    • $3.8 million to continue critical investments in our natural forests
    • $39.4 million in flexible capital funding for NYC Parks to use for last-in funding to help complete capital projects

Now is the time to invest in the Parks Department. Now is the time to Play Fair for Parks! I’d like to thank Chair Koo for his partnership and the Committee on Parks and Recreation for their attention to this issue. I look forward to working with you all closely to ensure NYC has healthy and thriving green spaces for generations to come.