Thursday, November 27, 2014

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Community Rallies To Save Cut Programs At West Harlem Park

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Hundreds of residents hoping to prevent the state budget ax from falling on a popular Manhattan park turned out for a rally in West Harlem Saturday to try to save some of the recreational facility's programs. NY1's Ruschell Boone filed the following report.

Carol Martin has spent years at Riverbank State Park, learning how to swim, dance, play the guitar and do other activities. Now, some of those programs are on the chopping block due to State Parks Department budget cuts, and the thought of losing the programs Martin believes has helped her to develop a healthy lifestyle left her in tears.

"I come here five days a week. I need it, we need it. We have a fantastic dance program and they do innovative things, especially for the seniors and the children," said Martin.

Hoping to save the programs, Martin joined more than 200 park users at a rally Saturday to protest the proposed cuts to operating hours and programs.

"Riverbank is known for its wide array of outdoor concerts. They would not happen at Riverbank and they also have a number of events for seniors they will be cut," said resident Elizabeth Brett. "The children's performances, the Popsicle Series, will be cut. There will be devastating cuts for the summer camp."

"This facility for this community is critical. They talk about the health, that people are getting unhealthy and getting fatter. You don't take away facilities that take away life skills," said instructor Wendy Hilliard.

At the rally, many demonstrators accused the state of going back on a promise it made to the community decades ago in exchange for building a waste treatment facility at the site.

"I understand that there's a budget crisis, but they need to honor that promise as long as they are sending 170 million gallons of raw sewage into this community everyday," said Brad Taylor of Community Board 9.

"When this facility was built, there was a commitment that this park, a 28-acre park, be built in order to make sure that the community is satisfied in respect to the sewer treatment facility and now we feel that this commitment is being broken," said Manhattan Councilman Robert Jackson. "So we are going to look at it legally to see if we have a legal standing."

As agencies being forced to reduce their spending due to state budget cuts, State Parks Commissioner Carol Ash said services had to be slashed.

Through a statement, Ash said, "These actions were not recommended lightly, but they are necessary to address our state's extraordinary fiscal difficulties."

Yet that is a decision many at the rally said they refused to accept.

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