It was the Parks Department’s turn in front of the Board of Legislators Budget Committee Monday and department officials laid out the significant cuts the parks will face.
Spending on the county’s 50 parks will decrease from $50 million to $47.6 million, a 4.8 percent decrease. The tax levy would go down even more steeply, by 16.5 percent to $12.6 million (the department raises 73 percent of its budget in revenues from fees and other sources).
To reach that level of spending, 22 positions would be cut, 17 of those through layoffs. Nature center curators and ethnic festivals at the Kensico Dam Plaza are among the cuts. The layoffs, including of two people added during the course of 2012, would bring departmental staffing down to 249, including three funded through grants. Cutting the 12 festivals saves $100,000.
“They can do them but the Parks Department cannot pay for them,” said Commissioner Kathleen O’Connor.
Because of staff cuts, crews are working more often in teams rotating between several parks rather than having an employee assigned to one particular park. Equipment is also moving around more, O’Connor said. Redeployment is the watchword.
With the curator in charge of the deer management program on the layoff list, O’Connor said they are still working out how to continue the work.
The department is expecting a loss of revenue from the Ice Casino at Playland because it will not be fixed for several months. But the county has business interruption insurance that may pick up the $1.5 million in lost revenue.
Three of six curators at nature centers will be cut but their duties will be taken on by other conservation staff who will be assigned full time, O’Connor said. Where the public may see a difference, O’Connor said, is in the speed of cleaning up fallen trees on the sides of the Bronx River Parkway and the frequency with which grass will be cut at parks.
Legislators questioned keeping golf fees the same while cutting so much else in the budget but O’Connor said they have already gone up $6 over the last three years, putting Westchester near the top of the middle of similar courses in the region.
“We desperately do not want to carry the entire department on the backs of the golfers,” she said. The golf course fees cover the costs, she said.
The county’s parks served an estimated 3 million people in 2012, O’Connor said.