Auditors question park spending in the Bronx

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The City Comptroller’s Office is conducting an audit to determine whether the Bronx actually received the $240 million it was promised for dealing with the construction of the Croton Water Filtration Plant.

Community activists and local politicians, especially Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, have long suspected the city reduced regular capital funding for Bronx parks as Croton mitigation money kicked in.

In order to gain support in the state legislature for constructing the Croton Water Filtration Plant in the Bronx, the Department of Environmental Protection promised in 2003 $200 million in capital funding for Bronx parks.

Additionally, before that agreement, in 1999, the DEP agreed to fund projects totaling $43 million as part of a ULURP application — approved by the City Council — to designate the land in Van Cortlandt Park as other than parkland in order to build the filtration plant there. 

The $200 million in mitigation funds started pouring into the Bronx in 2005 and included projects across the borough, including major renovations for Van Cortlandt Park.

But financial data acquired from the Independent Budget Office and reported in The Press, show that funding from the city to the Bronx decreased after Croton funding kicked in. 

The money offered in the ULURP application was to fund projects, including restoration work on the Mosholu Golf Course and a Major Deegan Expressway pedestrian bridge, which is yet to be built.

Mr. Dinowitz and community activists asked City Comptroller John Liu to look into the discrepancies.

“We’re looking into whether, in fact, the entire $240 million has been invested in improving the local parks here,” Mr. Liu said in a recent interview at the Riverdale Diner.

Mr. Liu’s office later confirmed there is an ongoing audit into Parks capital spending, including the Croton mitigation money.

The Bronx received $711.7 million in capital money for parks projects from 2000 to 2011. Of that, the City Council and borough president allocated $81.7 million to projects while the mayor’s office directed $630 million.

Of the mayor’s office money, $338.4 million went toward Yankee Stadium: $174.1 million to recreate public parks displaced by stadium construction and $164.3 million for stadium infrastructure, including tearing down the old stadium.

When money going to Yankee Stadium is excluded entirely, the total given to Bronx parks from the mayor’s office was $296.4 million, compared to Brooklyn ($657.9 million), Manhattan ($651.5 million), Queens ($431 million, excluding $136 million for Citi Field), Staten Island ($245.6 million) and citywide funding for parks ($302.9 million). If you include funding going toward the restored parks at or around Yankee Stadium, the Bronx total comes to $470.5 million.

“Was the $240 million on top of what was already committed or did it simply replace what was already committed?” Mr. Liu said.

Mr. Dinowitz was pleased that the issue is on the comptroller’s radar.

“Given the amount of money involved, there’s just so many aspects of this project that need investigation and certainly the Bronx getting cheated out of its share of capital money for parks is one aspect that needs to be thoroughly investigated,” Mr. Dinowitz said.

According to the IBO, of the $209 million (upped from $200 million when an additional project was added) to be spent on Bronx Parks, $161.4 million of the funds had been allocated through 2011, with $47.7 million planned for 2012 and beyond. The money was supposed to be spent in five years, but funds remain unused because, Parks officials say, they are still planning many of the projects.

Only $19 million of the additional $43 million has been either committed or planned so far, according to the IBO. DEP officials claim they do not have the money to construct a pedestrian footbridge in Van Cortlandt Park, one of projects presented in the DEP’s ULURP application. 

When asked if there was any plan to conduct another audit of the Croton Water Filtration Plant itself (his predecessor William Thompson released an audit in 2009), Mr. Liu said he didn’t think his office was allowed to repeat an audit in such a short period of time without a different angle.

Activists who have fought against the plant since its inception were happy to hear Mr. Liu’s office was looking into it.

“Oh wow,” said Karen Argenti when told of the news. 

“That’s a good thing. I’m really happy,” she said.

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