Monday, March 7, 2011

Service Cuts While Recreation Fees/Permits Soar Under Bloomberg Plan

The Mayor's proposed $65.6 billion budget for the next fiscal year anticipates Parks Department spending dropping by $52 million, or 15 percent, to $290 million, resulting in massive service cuts and thousands of jobs being lost or reduced to seasonal only. The Bloomberg administration is also quietly pushing through massive recreation fee increases for Parks Department facilities.

Seniors would see their recreation center membership fees increased by 150% - from $10 to $25. Adults have seen their fees increased by 100%, from $50 to $100 for centers without an indoor pool, and from $75 to $150 for centers having an indoor pool. The City is claiming the recreational fee increases are designed "to help defray the costs for the Department to maintain fields, courts and recreation centers" even though the money goes to the city's general fund. The city estimates it will take in $142.9 from Parks revenue this year but the Mayor's proposed expense budget allocates just $ 222 million in city funds for the embattled agency.

The Bloomberg administration has also quietly pushed through large recreation fee increases for tennis and ballfield permits for park facilities that just went into effect for this season.

City -Wide

The charge for tennis players using Big Apple parks would double under Mayor Bloomberg's new spending plan -- and the city would also be serving up fewer workers to maintain the courts, according to the New York Post.

In an attempt to raise $3.7 million in new revenue, Bloomberg has proposed doubling the price of tennis permits and admission to the city's 35 recreation centers -- as well as jacking up fees to play on city ball fields.

Hizzoner's proposed $65.6 billion budget for the next fiscal year anticipates Parks Department spending dropping by $52 million, or 15 percent, to $290 million, resulting in massive service cuts and thousands of jobs being lost or reduced to seasonal only. It's part of across-the-board cuts all departments face as the mayor tries to close a $4.6 billion budget gap.

Yearly tennis permits for adults would jump from $100 to $200, and single permits would go from $7 to $15.

Recreation centers would lose 15 percent of their funding -- but their admission fees would rise from $75 to $150 annually for centers with pools and from $50 to $100 for the rest.

Critics say the fee increases go against health-happy Hizzoner’s own agenda of promoting regular exercise and good eating habits.

"This is a real hit to trying to deal with obesity and getting people active — and it’s especially devastating on our most vulnerable communities," said Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-East Harlem), who chairs the council’s parks committee.

Geoffrey Croft of nonprofit New York City Park Advocates said the fee hikes would be easier for people to swallow if their payments were "invested in maintaining facilities they use," rather than going into the city’s general fund for all services.

Instead, the public should expect maintenance and operations at tennis courts, recreation centers, ball fields and the rest of city’s 29,000 acres of parkland to suffer greatly if the mayor’s plan is adopted, said Henry Garrido, associate director of District Council 37, which represents many of the department’s rank-and-file staff.

While the Parks Department isn’t laying people off, the spending plan still guts staffing – especially maintenance workers and groundskeepers.

Nearly 1,800 parks jobs through a welfare-to-work program would be cut. In July, 1,468 full-timers would see their workload reduced to nine months a year, and another 299 jobs would be eliminated through buyouts.

Parks Department Spokeswoman Vickie Karp said "despite the fee increases, our recreation center memberships remain the most affordable deal in town" and playing at the city’s 700 public tennis courts is cheaper than at private centers.

She said the cuts and fee hikes are necessary because the city is in a "severe fiscal crisis."

City taxpayers would fund $222 million of the Parks Department’s $290 million budget, but Croft said the department shouldn’t have to reduce staffing since it expects to bring in $142.9 million in revenues this fiscal year and, unlike many other agencies, "basically pays for itself."

Recreation Permit Fees Increased

By Geoffrey Croft

The Bloomberg administration has quietly pushed through large recreation fee increases for Parks Department facilities.

Permit holders using Parks Department fields, including baseball, softball and basketball courts are in for a big change. The City has changed the fee structure from a session to an hourly fee. Permit fees for softball and baseball fields have gone from $16 per session to to $12.50 an hour. Fields including baseball, softball, and basketball courts with outdoor lights are also in for a big change. Prices for fields with lights have gone from $32.00 a session to 25.00/per hour. Cricket, football, lacrosse, rugby and ultimate Frisbee fields gone from $ 20.00 a session to $ 16.00/per hour. Baseball, softball and volleyball, Turf/Soft surface fields gone from $ 16.00 a session to $12.50/per hour. Basketball, baseball, softball, roller hockey and volleyball - $ 10.00 per session. Hardtop playing surfaces 8.00/per hour.

The prices are for people 18 years and older.

The Bloomberg administration has doubled the price for the seasonal adult tennis permit Parks from $100 to $ 200. Single-play tickets, for those who do not purchase permits, have increased from $7 per person to $ 15 per hour. Tennis permits, single-play tickets and court reservations have brought in between $1.8 million and $1.9 million annually over the past five years according to the Parks Department. The funds go to the city's general fund.

"We have big budget problems in the city, but I don't think this is going to achieve a balanced budget," Brooklyn Council Member Stephen Levin told the Wall Street Journal. "I think this particular method would deter people of modest means from playing tennis."

In January the City announced it had come to an agreement with the Bloomberg not to increase fees this fiscal year but apparently that agreement was partially voided.

A sparsely attended public hearing was held on the proposed rule changes at the Chelsea Recreation Center on January 25 by the Parks Department.

“The proposed increased fees are designed to help defray the costs for the Department to maintain fields, courts and Recreation Centers," the City claimed in a notice published in the City Record on December 23, 2010.

"The change to an hourly fee from a session fee is designed to establish a clearer and more understandable basis for assessing charges for field usage."

NYC ranks dead last in the provision of tennis courts for a high density city. Our residents share fewer than 600 tennis courts, many of them in bad shape due to a lack of maintenance and priority in funding.

Schedule of Permit Fees:

New material is indicated by underlining. Deletions are
indicated by brackets.

Field Lights (18 yrs & over) $ [32.00/session]
25.00/per hour

Cricket, football, lacrosse, rugby
and ultimate Frisbee fields
(18 yrs & over) $ [20.00/session]
16.00/per hour

Baseball, softball and volleyball,
Turf/Soft surface fields
(18 yrs & over) $ [16.00/session]
12.50/per hour

Basketball, baseball, softball,
roller hockey and volleyball, $ [10.00/session]
Hardtop playing surfaces 8.00/per hour
(18 yrs & over)

[A session is defined as 2 hours, with the exception of week
days after 4:00 P.M. on Manhattan fields, when session length is 90 minutes due to the high demand for fields.

Statement Regarding DPR’s Plan to Increase Recreation Center Fees
Submitted by Christine C. Quinn, Speaker, New York City Council and
Melissa Mark-Viverito, Chair, Committee on Parks and Recreation and
Domenic M. Recchia, Jr., Chair, Committee on Finance

January 28, 20111

We wish this statement to be included in the official record of this hearing. While we understand the difficult financial straits in which the City finds itself, as well as the need to generate revenues as a part of our overall budgetary solution, we believe the proposed plan to increase fees at Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) recreation centers should be examined closely to ensure that no undue burden is placed on those who are least able to pay such increases.

The Mayor and many of his commissioners have worked tirelessly to promote healthier lifestyles in New York City. From banning smoking in restaurants and bars, to mandating that nutrition information be posted in fast food restaurants, to urging New Yorkers to exercise more frequently, the message has been consistent: “Be healthy!” This has been a central focus of our energies as well, as evidenced by the recent release of a Council report entitled “FoodWorks: A Vision to Improve NYC’s Food System,” that outlines concrete steps the City can take to increase the availability and consumption of fresh foods.

It is with this push toward healthier lifestyles as a backdrop that the November Plan included a Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) designed to “generate additional revenue by increasing recreation center membership fees.” The original proposal called for the increase to go into effect toward the end of Fiscal 2011, for a partial-year revenue gain of $1 million. Due to concerns about the potential adverse impact of this proposal, the City Council reversed the Administration’s plan to initiate the fee increase in Fiscal 2011. Being discussed here today is the proposal to generate $4 million annually by enacting the fee increase beginning July 1.

People of all walks of life utilize City recreation centers, including those who presumably could afford to join private gym clubs at substantially higher prices. They do this, in many instances, because the centers are terrific, close to home, and offer programs of a kind not offered at private gyms. Still, this population is not our major concern. What we worry about is the cadre of lower- and middle-income New Yorkers who depend most heavily on these low-cost centers, and who might be frozen out by what are projected to be significant fee increases. Whereas children would continue to enjoy free membership, seniors would see their membership fee increase by 150%, from $10 to $25, and adults would see their fees increase by 100%, from $50 to $100 for centers without an indoor pool, and from $75 to $150 for centers having an indoor pool.

It is our hope that as it goes forward, the Department will examine whether this fee increase is truly necessary, and that if it is, alternative fee schedules be explored. It would be preferable if a means tested fee increase could be implemented, although we recognize that means testing may be logistically difficult. Another alternative would be allowing for payment on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. Lastly, perhaps on a pilot basis, the Department could ask recreation center users to pay a voluntary fee increase in Fiscal 2012 and see how close to the $4-million target the incremental revenue collections come in. The closest parallel to this type of voluntary payment would be the voluntary donations certain museums charge for entry: nobody is denied entry for non-payment or for contributions lower than the suggested amount; rather, means testing is approximated via a self-identification of ability (and willingness) to pay.

In sum, we urge the Department to examine closely the potential adverse impact the proposed fee increases may cause, and explore creative ways to protect the City’s bottom line while also enabling as many New Yorkers as possible to enjoy the amenities at DPR recreation centers.

We appreciate the opportunity to be heard on this important matter.

Read More:

New York Post - March 7, 2011 - By Rich Calder

The Brooklyn Paper - February 4, 2011 - By Sean Hoess

The Wall Street Journal - January 28, 2010 - By Tom Perrotta

City Council Parks and Recreation Committee Blog - January 28, 2011

A Walk In The Park - January 6, 2011

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