The Times Union of Albany reported Sunday that the John Brown Farm State Historic Site is on a list of parks that could be “closed or curtailed” if the legislature doesn’t approve a proposed transfer of $5 million from the Environmental Protection Fund to a park operating fund, or refund it from another source. The Crown Point Historic Site is also on this list.
However, Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook said the state Division of the Budget and parks officials are still working on plans to meet the governor’s savings targets, and talk of closing specific parks is premature.
“There is no list that exists right now of state parks that are going to be closed,” Hook said. “Anybody who is distributing a list (to) different publications of what they say are the list of parks that are going to be closed is simply not accurate.”
New York’s proposed 2010-2011 budget includes cutting the operating budget of the state office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation by 16 percent, or $29 million. Parks Commissioner Carol Ash said at a budget hearing last month that some parks will likely close, reduce their hours or increase fees as a result of the budget, but didn’t say which ones. At least two media outlets on Long Island are reporting that some parks there are on a closure list.
State Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, requested a list of parks that could close last week, said spokesman Dan Mac Entee, and was told at the time that no such list was available.
“It’s clear that someone is giving lists to reporters, but these are not accurate lists,” Hook said. “There’s nothing final; a plan is still being developed. Any lists that have been published, they certainly haven’t been lists that have been approved by the people that have the power to approve them, so they’re really not even worth publishing.”
Mac Entee said cuts are unavoidable, given the state of the economy, but that they can be done in a smart way.
“I think that (Little’s) desire certainly would be for the agency as well as the legislature to work with any community that would be affected by a closure,” Mac Entee said. “There’s obviously an economic impact.”
Mac Entee said legislators will be hearing, over the next several weeks, from communities that will be affected by cuts, asking for more information about the criteria used to decide where to cut or close, and discussing what to do in conference committee.
“That’s why it’s important we have an open public conference committee process, so that the public really understands what’s happening before the budget is actually adopted,” Mac Entee said.
New York’s budget process has been criticized for years for the secretive “three men in a room” manner in which it is often drafted by the governor and by the leaders of the Senate and Assembly. Republicans have said the 2009-10 budget, drafted by three men who were all Democrats from New York City, was one of the most secretive in years, and most legislators on both sides of the aisle didn’t see it until days before they were supposed to vote on it.
The John Brown homestead as seen in November.
File photo/Nathan Brown