The reservoir's historic structures & ecosystems are an opportunity to create a unique environmental education center for our children & their future.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Another Parks Department Debacle

The following exposé just appeared in the NY Post. Just imagine how much money the city could waste at the Ridgewood Reservoir:

Sky 'High' Costs
Tax-Seeking New Park Already NY'S Priciest

By Rich Calder

Operators of High Line Park are spending money like drunken sailors to maintain the brand-new hot spot -- even while trying to push a controversial new tax on neighborhood property owners so the managers can spend even more, a Post investigation found.

Park officials say the former Manhattan railway-turned-aerial-esplanade will now cost up to $4.5 million a year to maintain -- surpassing Midtown's Bryant Park as the city's most expensive green space per acre to operate, records show.

The 6.7-acre park - a huge economic boost for the Meatpacking District since partially opening in June - is expected to get $522,388 to $671,641 an acre for yearly maintenance and operations, based on its preliminary spending plan.

That's even more than Bryant Park, which spends $479,166 per acre. The average city park gets $9,555 an acre.

With the city already kicking in nearly $1 million in taxpayer funds for the new park's annual operations, the nonprofit group Friends of the High Line was supposed to fork over the rest of the money.

Instead, the group --whose daily operations are run by politically connected officials padding their pockets with six-figure salaries -- is pitching a 37-block "High Line Improvement District."

Its board of directors includes boldface names like actors Ed Norton and Kevin Bacon, designer Diane von Furstenberg and her media mogul husband Barry Diller, and actress Kyra Sedgwick.

The plan, endorsed by the Bloomberg administration last week, would levy local businesses and residents to raise another $1 million of the $4.5 million needed.

"It's a pay-for-play deal that sets a terrible precedent," said Geoffrey Croft of the watchdog group New York City Park Advocates, adding the park's budget is already "inflated with fat."

The city has 11 parks enforcement patrol officers working the High Line's 2.8 acres now open.

In comparison, only five PEP officers are assigned to cover all 6,970 acres of Bronx parkland and eight handle Queens' 7,300 acres, the city parks employee union says.

The High Line also has 20 laborers paid through its nonprofit group - including nine gardeners - and another 10 workers will be hired once the park is completed in 2011, officials said. Bryant Park, a much larger crown jewel in the city parks system at 9.6 acres, only uses five gardeners among its staff.

Meanwhile, Friends of the High Line's management staff features four people earning more than $100,000, including its co-founder Robert Hammond, who earned $280,000 last year and was the college roommate of former Council Speaker Gifford Miller.

Hammond defended the new tax proposal, saying the extra funds are needed to keep the park looking magnificent because crowds "are much larger than anticipated," and the park has quickly become of "one of the" most densely visited public spaces citywide.

More than a half million people have visited the park its first two months.

He blamed the massive maintenance costs on this "high volume combined with the challenges of operating an intensely planted public space on an elevated structure with limited access" while also having to enforce occupancy/public safety codes other parks don't have to deal with.

Friends of the High Line, which designed and operates the city-owned park, says it has raised $44 million, with $12.5 million already offsetting the project's construction costs, which are expected to exceed $172 million.

The group has no plans to use the rest of the money raised to supplement the funds it wants from the community. Instead, it says it wants to put some of the money into an endowment like Central Park does so the funds can be invested on behalf of the High Line.

Hammond said his group would only look to submit a formal application to the city for the improvement district if it believes the community is behind the tax following a public review process.

The annual fee for the owner of a 1,000-square-foot property would range anywhere from $30 to $90.

While Hammond says he believes most of the 5,000 or so property owners affected will support the idea because the park has already helped boost local property values in a slumping economy, some peeved residents last week kicked off a petition drive to collect signatures in opposition.

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