First I'd like to congratulate our new mayor, Bill DeBlasio, and wish him all the best when he is officially sworn in. I don't know him personally, but I do know a few people who have worked under him and they are great, hardworking people who have always stood up for the Bronx. And while there are many pressing issues that the new mayor faces such as housing, jobs, public safety, schools, and treating our public employees fairly, one issue I believe needs to be addressed is how the Bronx has been shortchanged when it comes to our parks.
Years ago, a deal was struck to have a (money) pit dug at Van Cortlandt Park to put in the Croton Filtration Plant, an outdated and questionable project from the onset, in exchange for over $250 million in capital improvements for Bronx parks. The project itself was supposed to cost several hundred million dollars, but under the Bloomberg administration, costs overruns and mismanagement have raised the price tag to over $3.3 billion and counting.
And while there have been many great projects built throughout Bronx parks, only slightly more than half of those capital dollars have been spent to date. Additionally, some of the larger projects have been plagued with delays, contractor conflicts, and other issues. A case in point has been the Williamsbridge Oval Recreation Center in the Norwood section of the Bronx. The center, along with the surrounding park space, received a huge infusion of cash to modernize it. The center was closed to the public in early 2010 for what was supposed to be an 18-month project, but is only now opening its doors at the end of this month, more than 2 years behind schedule. Residents are grateful that it is finally open, but it has been a very long wait.
Even more disturbing is that the money from this arrangement was supposed to be in addition to the borough's annual budget, but that hasn't been the case. It appears as if the borough has been the victim of a "bait and switch", with capital projects getting all the attention and services, staffing, and maintenance have been cut over the last 5 years. No one from the city can clearly explain what happened to those dollars, but it is doubtful that it stayed in the Bronx. One only needs to look at the fiscal budget over the last several years to see that funding has remained flat all this time.
So Mr. DeBlasio, when you step up to Gracie Mansion in January, Bronxites would like to see some justice done on a variety of issues, but please, don't forget our parks and what we've had to endure these last several years.