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Pol Position: New York City Budget Breakdown

Late on Monday night, the City Council voted 44-6 for this year’s $101 billion budget.
Several progressive members of the caucus—-including Chi Osé, Tiffany Cabán, Sandy Nurse, Charles Barron and more—-voted against the legislation for either giving too much money to the NYPD or not spending enough on issues such as housing or sanitation.

Education
One of the biggest snafus in this years budget process was the contention between the city council and the mayor’s proposed $215 million cut in education spending. The $215 million in cuts revert to pre-pandemic policies of reallocating resources based off on enrollment. Recent figures show that up to 120,000 students have left the public school system over the last five years.
The cuts come off the heels of new class size legislation from Albany. Critics of the cuts say the decreased funding will make the class size mandate harder to actualize.
Even more progressive members who voted for the budget expressed dismay with the budget cuts.
“But this budget also fell short in serious ways, and we will need to spend the next few months fighting like hell to address its deficiencies on housing and especially education,” Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Lincoln Restler, said in a statement.

Green spaces
The budget prioritizes green and clean spaces in the city, despite Parks not attaining one percent of the budget as Mayor Adams stumped on during the campaign trail.
A total of $44.1 million is in the pipeline for Parks Department maintenance and summer workforce, as well as $3.5 million in funding for organic drop-off sites, $2.6 million for “green thumb” gardens, $2.5 million for forest management, and $2 million for tree stump removal.
An investment in cleaner streets through the restoration of $18.5 million in sanitation cuts will also mean more frequent trash pick-up and cleanings.
“With huge funding increases to the Department of Sanitation and Parks Department, our neighborhoods will be able to breathe a little easier,” Councilwoman Marjorie Velázquez said in a statement.

Police
This year’s budget brings a $5.5 million operating budget for the NYPD, with the Council touting “fiscal responsibility” by curbing the growth of wasteful spending on the criminal justice system.
The budget brings some transparency to the fiscal operations of the NYPD, by establishing 18 new units of appropriation, or the purpose for what funds are doled out to which agency, for the first time in Council history.
The Council also got rid of a proposal that would have increased the headcount at the Department of Correction by 578 positions. Nevertheless, some members of the Council were still upset with “bloated levels” of funding for policing.
“Without moving away from violent, oppressive systems, we are undermining the very investments I am so glad we managed to include in this budget, and ensuring that their potential positive impacts are nowhere near as substantial as they could and should be,” said Councilmember Tiffany Cabán.

Reserves
This year’s budget set a record $8.3 billion in reserve funds—-an important step as financial analysts have warned of a looming recession. Specifically, Mayor Adams said at Friday’s budget announcement that he was adding $750 million to the Rainy Day Fund, $750 million to retired health benefits trust, and $500 million to the general reserve. Adams also increased the labor reserves by $1.25 million, amid upcoming union negotiations and rising inflation.
Comptroller Brad Lander said, in a statement, that while the reserves were a substantial amount they still fell short of his office’s recommended $1.8 billion.
“Going forward, the City should adopt a set formula to guarantee annual deposits and establish rules for withdrawals to guard against devastating cuts in a potential recession, which could be on the horizon sooner than we would hope,” Lander said in a statement.

New administrator at Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Anthony Sama has recently been appointed the new administrator of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. He will also serve as the executive director of the Alliance for Flushing Meadows Corona Park, replacing former administrator/executive director Janice Melnick, who held the position for the last 19 years.

“We are excited that Anthony will bring his expertise and care for public service to his new role as Executive Director of our Alliance and Administrator for Flushing Meadows Corona Park,” FMCP Alliance Chair Daniel Zausner said in a statement. “We look forward to working with him.”

Sama previously served as the Director of Citywide Special Events for NYC Parks Department, a position he has held since 2009. A Queens native and graduate of Archbishop Molloy High School in Briarwood, he went on to attend New York University’s Stern School of Business. He is also married with two young children, who he says will be among the most devoted participants involved in upcoming activities at the park.

“I’m proud to be part of the flagship park of Queens and the fourth-largest park in New York City,” Sama said in a statement. “I’m honored to have been selected to help represent some of the most fascinating and diverse neighborhoods in the country. It will be my privilege to continue the great work of those who stewarded Flushing Meadows Corona Park before me, from keeping the park clean and safe to celebrating our cultural heritage and environmental legacy.”

In his role with NYC Parks, Sama has overseen the growth and execution of many of New York City’s premier special events on parkland, including the NYC Marathon and the Global Citizen Festival. For more than ten years, he has worked closely with communities, elected officials, and large organizations to standardize event processes and policies and help create meaningful and fun public programs in compliance with complex policies and needs.

“Throughout his career at NYC Parks, Anthony has played an integral role in connecting and representing partners, stakeholders, and the public we all serve,” NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue said in statement. “Over the past two years in particular, Anthony has shown great leadership by coordinating the distribution of over half a million masks to New Yorkers in parks, overseeing the build-out of a hospital on Central Park’s East Meadow, and working with more than 350 city schools to bring the City’s Outdoor Learning Initiative to life in city parks. I am confident his vast experience, and ‘can-do’ attitude, will benefit him in this new position.”

One Percent for Parks

Pols, advocates call for historic investments in parks

By Evan Triantafilidis

[email protected]

Elected officials and parks advocates joined forces in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on Monday to call for historic investments into the city’s parks.

New York City Councilman Shekar Krishnan unveiled his five-point plan to bring new public green spaces to NYC, which includes funding the Parks Department with $1 billion in annual maintenance, the creation of a Parks Construction Authority and to upgrade playgrounds in every zip code.

Krishnan, who also chairs the council’s Committee on Parks and Rec, said that areas in Queens have some of the least amount of green space in the city. The councilman’s own neighborhood of Jackson Heights, for example, ranks second-to-last in the city when it comes to park space per capita.

“The issue of parks in our city is a social justice issue,” Krishnan said. “It is a public health issue.”

Krishnan and other lawmakers from Queens urged the Mayor to allocate one percent – or $1 billion – of the city’s near $100 billion budget for the upkeep of the city’s parks. Despite signaling his support for a “percent for parks” plan during his campaign, Mayor Eric Adams has only allocated a half-percent, or just short of $500 million, to the department in his first preliminary budget last month.

“This is the one-percent plan that advocates from across our city have been fighting for for so long,” Krishnan said. “We cannot afford any less for our parks.”

Krishnan’s plan also aims to repair a “fundamentally broken capital process” with the creation of a Parks Construction Authority. He compared the concept to the School Construction Authority, which was created in 1988 to take over control of capital projects from the city’s Board of Education.

“We had a school built for the School Construction Authority at a rapid pace with P.S. 398,” Krishnan said. “Whereas Travers Park with the Parks Department took 10 years to build. The difference is clear. We need a capital process that funds our parks that allows building efficiently and makes sure that we can quickly get more green space in our city.”

Krishnan also cited the cost of bathrooms at Marcus Garvey Park in Elmhurst reaching about $4 million, and still aren’t fully accessible.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards called Krishnan’s vision, which includes planting 1 million more trees by 2030 and to provide waterfront access for all, an “ambitious” plan.

“This is a borough of parks, from Flushing Meadows, to Alley Pond, Cunningham Park, to Roy Wilkins and beyond,” Richards said. “But for entire communities in Queens, especially in Councilman Krishnan’s district, and in my former district in Southeast Queens, having extensive green space is a dream not a reality.”

“Show us the money. We want $1 billion in this budget now,” he said.

Both Krishnan and Richards spoke to the point on how the pandemic pushed people to outdoor public spaces, calling the green spaces crucial for public health and recreation.

“It’s easy to socially distance in a massive park like Flushing Meadows or Alley Pond Park, but families in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst did not have that luxury,” Richards said. “Not only did they not have anywhere to go with their kids pre-pandemic, they didn’t have safe options to go to during the pandemic. And that’s not only unacceptable, it is insulting.”

Council Members Robert Holden, Linda Lee, Sandra Ung, Mercedes Narcisse and Lincoln Restler all spoke in favor of the five-point plan.

Restler said that a $1 billion investment into the city’s park is exactly what is needed, offering his support for the Parks Construction Authority.

“We need to make sure that our money is going to be well spent, because typically now if you give some money to the Parks Department four years later, for $4 million, you might get one bathroom,” Restler said. “It’s preposterous. The Park Construction Authority is the way to go, modeling on the great work that the School Construction Authority does to actually see our resources delivered for our communities.”

Beat the heat in the city’s public pools

Summer fully and truly came to New York City last week as the season’s first major heat wave reached the East Coast. Temperatures bordered on 100 degrees early in the week, with temperatures remaining in the 90s well into the night.
The city issued a heat advisory for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and also asked that individuals try to limit their energy usage to prevent blackouts.
So besides air conditioning, what can Brooklyn and Queens residents do to beat the heat?
Answer: go to one of the boroughs’ many public pools.
A great number of city parks feature pools that are free and open to the public. However, there are a few things that you should keep in mind before heading to one of these outdoor oases.
All pools in New York City parks are open every day from 11 a.m. through 7 p.m., with a break for pool cleaning between 3 and 5 p.m.
Visitors are encouraged to bring a combination lock along with them if they hope to store their valuables in one of the provided lockers. Storage lockers are free, but fill up quickly on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The Parks Department also asks that visitors limit the amount of wrapped food, paper, and other potential litter that they bring with them to the pool.
Most importantly, bathing suits are required. This means that on-duty lifeguards will not allow plain-clothed individuals to enter the water. Nude swimming is also prohibited…for obvious reasons.
Throughout the summer, the city also offers free swimming lessons for people of all ages. This includes classes for toddlers (1 1/2 to 5 years old), children (6 to 17 years old), and adults (18 years old or older).
Some pools provide additional classes that focus on specific swimming techniques, so be sure to check out the Parks Department website to see what your local park is offering.
Brooklyn parks with pools include Betsy Head Park (Brownsville), Bushwick Playground (Bushwick), Commodore Barry Park (Downtown Brooklyn), Fox Playgrounds (Canarsie), Thomas Greene Playground (Gowanus), Gleenwood Playground (Canarsie), Howard Playground (Brownsville), Kosciusko Pool (Clinton Hill), Lindower Park (Mill Basin), McCarren Park (Greenpoint), Red Hook Pool (Red Hook), Sunset Park Pool (Sunset Park).
Queens parks with pools include Astoria Park (Astoria), Fisher Park (Flushing), Fort Totten Park (Bay Terrace), Detective Keith L Williams Park (Jamaica), Marie Curie Playground (Bayside), Lawrence Virgilio Playground (Sunnyside).

‘Art in the Parks’ grant winners announced

Local artists Sherwin Banfield and Haksul Lee each receive $5,000 grants to create temporary art installations in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
“In addition to supporting Queens-based artists, we look forward to activating the park with new artworks as we emerge from the pandemic,” said Elizabeth Masella of the Parks Department. “Both artists’ work highlights eco-friendly technology like solar and wind power, while honoring the park’s past, present, and future.”
The “Going Back to The Meadows: A Tribute to Queens Hip Hop Legend LL Cool J” and “Performance at FMCP” by Banfield will be located at David Dinkins Circle near the boardwalk ramp entrance to the park from the 7 train at Willets Point.
Banfield describes it as “a sculptural sonic performance artwork that evokes the feeling of Flushing Meadows Corona Park as an event space, channeled through the sonic frequency and artistry of Queens hip-hop legend LL Cool J.”
Banfield’s recent exhibitions include sculptures for the Queens Central Library, Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport, Socrates Sculpture Park, and the Factory LIC Gallery.
“The Giving Tree” by Lee will be located on the lawn bounded by Herbert Hoover Promenade, United Nations Avenue North, and Avenue of the Americas.
Lee describes it as taking the form of a tree, “to bring awareness of the environmental concerns in the Queens community.”
The main structure will be made of recycled materials collected locally. The top of the sculpture will function as a wind turbine to power a charging station in the tree’s trunk.
Lee’s work was recently exhibited in The Immigrant Artists Biennial, at the Korean Embassy in Beijing, and the Phyllis Harriman Gallery.
“The grant is intended to help transform these selected sites into art destinations through a series of rotating exhibitions with supporting events and programs,” said Alliance for FMCP executive director Janice Melnick.

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