New York City’s parks may be on the verge of a major staffing shortage, local advocates and city officials are warning, as federally funded positions expire and Mayor Eric Adams prepares to cut overall spending on local green spaces.
By the end of next month, the Parks Department will lose roughly 1,800 members of a cleanup corps hired to beautify parks through a one-time infusion of federal stimulus funds.
At the same time, the mayor’s latest budget has committed just $600 million to parks for the next fiscal year, a $20 million drop from last year and a far cry from the $1 billion he promised on the campaign trail.
As Adams vows to prioritize quality of life concerns, advocates say cuts to park funding could have serious consequences for the city's more than 2,000 green spaces.
“The net loss of over 1,000 positions compared to last year is a real short-term problem,” said Adam Ganser, the head of New Yorkers for Parks. “It’s hard to imagine the parks department is going to bring in and absorb the number of people that would be required to keep our parks in good condition.”
He pointed to the summer of 2020 — when COVID-related budget cuts left the city unable to perform basic services like picking up trash or cutting lawns — as a worst case scenario.
A spokesperson for the parks department said there were 4,400 maintenance and operation staff working this season, a small decrease compared to last year and above the headcount for previous years.
But the looming loss of workers has only intensified calls for Adams to follow through on a campaign promise to nearly double funding in the city’s parks.
On Friday, more than two dozen members of the 51-member City Council, as well as Henry Garrido, the president of D.C. 37 and an Adams ally, will send a letter calling out the mayor’s executive budget proposal that “fails to deliver on that promise.”
“Raising parks funding from 0.6 to 1% of the budget is the bare minimum required for adequate staffing, maintenance, and parks planning to ensure that our parks are equitable, safe, clean, and accessible for all New Yorkers,” the letter, which was organized by Ganser’s group, states.
While Adams had previously accepted the 1% for parks pledge as a candidate, he has since walked back that offer – describing his current budget as a “down payment” on the ultimate goal of giving 1% of the budget to city parks. City Hall recently argued that the mayor never specified he would fulfill his promise during his first year in office.
“Reaching this goal must be done over time to ensure the money is being spent wisely and efficiently to improve parks equity,” mayoral spokesperson, Jonah Allon, said in a statement to Gothamist.
On Friday, members of the City Council’s committee on Parks and Recreation will meet to discuss their response to the mayor’s latest budget proposal. The spending plan for next fiscal year will be finalized in June.