Today’s news:

The Civic Scene: Queens Coalition seeks more funds for city parks

The Queens Coalition for Parks, which is working to restore basic services to all Queens parks, held a January meeting in the conference room at Overlook in Forest Park. The meeting was chaired by President Frederick J. Kress who is also president of the Rosedale Civic Association. Also on the agenda was Christine O’Connell from the City Parks Foundation.

Since it was the first meeting since Sept. 11 and the recent City Council elections, the topics of becoming acquainted with new City Council members and influencing the city budget meetings were important items discussed. On the minds of all present were the facts that the city only appropriates about .4 percent of the city budget to parks and often cuts park appropriations when there is a fiscal crises, which there is now.

The Queens Coalition for Parks was created last year with the help of Parks 2001 to organize a citywide alliance for parks. The group supports appropriate operations and recreational staff in the parks, increased park enforcement and park rangers, improved volunteer and educational programs in every district, more horticultural and forestry services in every park, and that dollars generated in parks should stay in parks. Currently all money received from the concessions or events staged in parks go directly to the general city coffers — not necessarily for park purposes. Sixteen million dollars in concession money went directly to the central city government last year.

Last year the rallying cry was “1 Percent for Parks” meaning that at least 1 percent of the city budget should go to parks. Since the tragic events of Sept. 11 people have redirected their priorities. The roles of parks, gardens and organized recreation programs in our city have become even more important. As parks have become the gathering place of healing for many communities, it seems more important than ever to increase our collective commitment to parks and gardens.

On Sept. 8, 2001, just three days before to the Democratic Primary, five of the six mayoral candidates, five of the seven public advocate candidates, and 85 percent of the city council candidates had taken the “1 Percent for Parks” pledge. Of elected candidates, 77 percent of council members took the pledge as did the new mayor and public advocate. The Queens Coalition for Parks seeks to again make parks a leading topic for our city government.

The speakers at the Queens Coalition meeting stressed that parks and recreation programs are for all people and especially for our children. A youngster occupied in a park or recreation program will not get into trouble. The greenery in our parks are the lungs of the city, cleaning the air. The highest crime rate occurs between 3 p.m. when school lets out and 6 p.m. when parents come home from work, so it is wise to have safe places where children can play or learn. Today, during these stressful times, clean and renovated recreation areas are badly needed.

Some of the concerned groups which sent representatives to the January Queens Coalition for Parks meeting were Rosedale Civic Association, West Cunningham Park Civic Association, Juniper Valley Park Civic, Alley Pond Environment Center, Alley Pond Striders, King Manor, Alley Pond Park, Goodwill Industries and the Brinkerhoff Action Committee.

Groups which wish to fight for their parks and join the Queens Coalition for Parks — there are similar groups in the other boroughs as well — can call Fred Kress at 341-1395 or Christine O’Connell at 212-360-8154 at the City Parks Foundation.

People who wish to report vandalism or illegal activities or problems in their parks should call 1-800-210-PARK

Good and Bad News of the Week

The city is moving to correct the approximately $4 billion budget deficit by cutting expenses. Some of these cuts may be appropriate but others are not. The TimesLedger has had articles describing a few foolish agency cuts. There is a plan to cut those corner waste container pickups. Actually, Community Board 8 wants more pickups. I notice that the wire waste cans along Union Turnpike near 188th Street are often overflowing now. What will our streets look like if they are emptied less often?

Another cut proposed is that the Buildings Department wants to end computer access by the community boards to its records. This will make it harder to correct illegal and often dangerous building violations. Then there is the proposal to have fewer inspectors available to check on violations. All this is penny wise and pound foolish.

I would like to know how our city officials let a $4 billion deficit develop and why it wasn’t more of an issue in the campaigns for mayor and city council?

Reach columnist Bob Harris by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 140.

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