City budget talks: Council gives Mayor Adams’ team an earful on potential impact of Parks Department cutbacks

City Parks Department Commissioner Sue Donoghue.
Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

City Council members on Thursday grilled Adams administration officials over the potential impact that roughly $50.5  million in cuts to the Parks Department could have on the Big Apple’s green spaces, while excoriating Hizzoner for not fulfilling his campaign promise of committing 1% of the city’s annual spending plan to the agency.

Council Member Shekar Krishnan (D-Queens), who chairs the council’s Committee on Parks and Recreation, said during a March 21 hearing that the reductions could leave the city’s parks dirtier and less safe. The cuts include the elimination of vital youth gardening, swimming and tree maintenance programs, as well as 659 positions within the Parks Department.

“This means, as a result of these cuts and positions lost, that bathrooms won’t be opened or they’ll close even earlier, trash won’t be picked up in our parks,” Krishnan said. “Garbage cans will be overflowing, cleaning shifts for workers will be canceled and support for our community gardens and green spaces, from gardening to planting, won’t be done.”

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams has said many times she would like to see Mayor Eric Adams’ cuts to the Parks Department, along with many other city agencies, completely restored.

As a result of the cuts, the agency will be eliminating its recently established Second Shift Program, which sends workers to clean 100 litter and graffiti “hotspot” sites across 62 parks, according to Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue.

“We were forced to make some very difficult decisions as an agency … so due to the staffing impacts we will not be able to provide targeted second shift maintenance coverage,” Donoghue said. “But as was done prior to establishing this new initiative, we will be continuing to maintain heavily used sites.”

Donoghue insisted that while staffing reductions will have “an impact,” the department will make due by shifting resources around to where they are most needed.

“We’ll be looking to move people, move resources where they’re most needed, deploy staff where we can in order to get the job done as best we can with the resources that we have available,” she said.

Two previous hacks with the budget ax

Queens Council Member Shekar Krishnan speaks about parks
Queens City Council Member Shekar Krishnan, chair of the Council Parks Committee, says recent budget cuts from Mayor Eric Adams undermine the long-term health and safety of the city’s public greenspaces.Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit

Adams enacted two rounds of 5% budget cuts, in November and in January, as a means of closing a sizable projected deficit he says was fueled in large part by spending on sheltering and providing for tens of thousands of migrants. He has since reversed some of those cuts, while canceling another round that was planned for April, due to better-than-anticipated tax receipts and a plan to reduce migrant spending by 30%.

The Parks Department was not exempted from either of two rounds of 5% cuts across city agencies that the mayor enacted in November and January, Krishnan said, while other agencies including the NYPD, FDNY and Department of Sanitation were spared from the January trims. 

However, Adams did restore funding for a Human Resources Administration initiative, known as the Parks Opportunity Program (POP), which he originally cut in November. The program provides the Parks Department with seasonal cleaning staff.

The department is also still subject to a full hiring freeze, Krishnan said, while the city has eased that restriction for most other agencies, instead letting them hire one new employee for every two vacant spots.

Krishnan also blasted the mayor for only committing 0.5% of his Fiscal Year 2025 preliminary budget, proposed in January, to the Parks Department, falling far short of his campaign pledge to bring parks funding up to 1% of city spending. 

The council member said that Adams, as someone who claims to “get stuff done,” has “not gotten stuff done when it comes to our parks.”

“He has failed his campaign promise of 1% and year after year, we are here fighting cuts that never should have happened in the first place,” Krishnan said.

Council Member Robert Holden (D-Queens) added “it’s very frustrating, we don’t seem to be getting anywhere in the budget area of parks. We don’t get close to the 1% that we’ve been fighting for.”

When asked about where things stand with the mayor’s campaign pledge to devote 1% of the budget to parks, Donoghue said the commitment is still there, but it had been delayed due to the city’s fiscal woes.

“The administration has very recently stated their ongoing commitment to 1% for parks,” she said. “That has obviously been somewhat delayed given current fiscal realities, but there still is that commitment there.”