As many of you have heard, Riverbank State Park has had its hours reduced due to the lack of a budget agreement in Albany. This is an outcome which all of the elected officials in Harlem had worked to avoid. Despite our best efforts, the Governor did not insert the necessary funding into the budget extenders which we have been passing weekly to keep the State from shutting down, and these service reductions are a reality which all Harlemites will have to deal with for the time being. Believe me, I know how much Riverbank means to the Harlem community and I am a regular user of the facilities within, so I want to keep our park open as much as anyone.
When the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation created their budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, a proposal was made to close forty-one state parks and reduce services at twenty-three more. Riverbank State Park was among those slated for a reduction of hours and programmatic funding, but we took steps to mitigate this reduction. I successfully submitted budgetary requests to the leadership of the State legislature asking for the restoration of this funding to the State budget and both the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate have passed annual budget resolutions which exclude park closures and service reductions. Unfortunately, the Governor rejected our resolutions, which is why we see the service reductions occurring at Riverbank and 54 other State Parks throughout New York.
Since then, I have worked with dozens of other legislators from across New York State to save our parks. We have written letters to the Governor on multiple occasions demanding that his budget extenders include full funding to keep New York State Parks open and operational. I recently co-sponsored legislation with Assemblyman Steve Englebright which would REQUIRE the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to keep State Parks open throughout the 2010-2011 budget year with the same level of staffing and services as in the 2009-2010 budget year. While I am hopeful that this legislation will ultimately pass the Assembly and Senate, we must focus on ensuring that funding for Riverbank is included in the 2010-2011 fiscal year budget, which is my ultimate goal.
As we all know, the construction of Riverbank State Park was an appeasement to the Harlem community, at the cost of a sewage treatment plant in a neighborhood already beset with environmental health concerns. It has become a tremendous asset to the people of Harlem, both as a health resource and as a community destination, an asset I helped bring to the community in my freshman legislative year and one which I have continually supported with over $1 Million in State funding. Riverbank remains the only State Park on the island of Manhattan and we must fight to ensure that it remains open and fully operational throughout this fiscal crisis. Simply put, it will be a battle to save Riverbank and we must use any means necessary. My office is currently looking at private funding as a viable option to keep Riverbank State Park operating with full services and the best methods to secure such funding in a transparent manner. While I do not personally like the idea of bringing private entities into public spaces, our community must do what it takes to ensure that our Park remains open.
Thank you for your continued support of Riverbank State Park.