State and county governments continue to seek out ways to reduce their respective deficits, and some officials say public-private partnerships could be a route to easing some of the budget burden.
Public-private partnerships are often used by governments--whether at the town, county, or state level--to outsource services and gather private financial resources.
Take the Bird Homestead for instance, a 19th century historic site the City of Rye bought last year.
While Rye City bought the one-acre plot at 600 Milton Road, the non-profit Committee to Save the Bird Homestead (CSBH) is charged with restoring and maintaining the property and educating visitors on its history.
According to Tom Andersen, Director of Communications at the Westchester Land Trust, CSBH raised money for the city to purchase the property and wrote grant proposals the city later officially submitted. While Rye fronted the funds to purchase the Bird Homestead, Andersen said that a $350,000 grant awarded by the Environmental Protection Fund last year hasn't yet been paid.
The collaboration between Rye and CSBH to save the Bird Homestead from private development, which likely would have polluted the ecologically-sensitive area, is a prime example of an effective local public-private partnership.
"We're in a situation economically where every government is looking to cut costs," Andersen said. "If they can do that by outsourcing work and actually keep parks and preserves operating as effectively, I suppose that's worth considering."
At a March town hall meeting with Governor David Paterson in Greenburgh, Jay Heritage Center (JHC) President Suzanne Clary proposed the use of public-private partnerships to help reduce the state's cost burdens for parks and historic sites.
Clary asked Paterson if the state had interest in working with private preservation groups like the JHC to help keep parks and historic areas open to the public.
Paterson responded by expressing interest in establishing more public-private partnerships, but he did not elaborate further.
New York State currently faces a $9.2 billion deficit and the state's Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) has been ordered by Paterson to reduce its operating budget by 10.35 percent, or $19.9 million.
According to a statement, Paterson and OPRHP Commissioner Carol Ash proposed a plan in February that "includes the closure of 41 parks and 14 historic sites, and service reductions at 23 parks and one historic site."
In Westchester County, these proposed state park service reductions and closures include:
- Closing Donald J. Trump State Park in Yorktown.
- Shortening the swimming pool season at FDR State Park in Yorktown Heights.
- Closing Philipse Manor Hall Historic Site in Yonkers
- Eliminating interpretive programs at Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Sleepy Hollow.
The County's park system will likely face similar circumstances in light of County Executive Rob Astorino's announcement earlier this month that the county is facing a $166 million deficit for 2010-2011.
At a press conference, Astorino proposed a series of measures that he said would save the county $16 million this year, including closing the Croton Park Pool and opening Rye Playland an hour later each day. The latter move, Astorino said, could save almost $100,000.
Westchester Parks, Recreation and Conservation (WPRC) spokesperson Peter Tartaglia said, "there will be cuts, but we don't know exactly what yet."
In terms of public-private partnerships, Tartaglia said "conceptually it's a great idea." WPRC often engages in such relationships, but Tartaglia noted that their efficacy is dependent upon reaching mutually beneficial agreements.
WPRC has four parks in Rye: Playland, the Marshlands Conservancy, the Edith Read Sanctuary and the Jay Heritage property.
While the other parks are highly frequented, the Jay property seems to be the lost child of Rye's county parks, much to the dismay of Suzanne Clary, who has expressed interest in creating a public-private partnership between the JHC and WCP, despite historically tense relations between the two parties.
The most recent disagreement stemmed from WPRC using fill on the Jay property that was found in an independent test funded by the JHC to have high levels of potentially poisonous contaminants like arsenic and lead.
According to Tartaglia, the WPRC has no specific funding for the Jay property, but maintenance costs are absorbed through their operating budget. While New York State owns about 94 percent of the total property, it hasn't provided any funding to the site since its acquisition from a private developer in 1993.
The JHC currently leases the Zebra Barn on the Jay site, which is used as a restoration facility. Clary said that the JHC wants to contribute its resources to help spruce up the Jay property, including the historic houses and tennis court situated on its 23 acres.
"We have donors and contacts who would be interested in restoring different parts of the property," Clary said. "We want to restore it in an environmentally-sensitive and historically accurate way and open it up for public use."
Clary said that while there's no official public-private partnership on the table yet, the JHC would also be interested in leasing the entire Jay property from the WPRC.
"If the county offered us a lease for the entire property we would definitely take it," she said.
Tartaglia said that he couldn't comment on a hypothetical public-private partnership between WPRC and JHC, but noted that WPRC often receives proposals for use of its parks and was open to the possibility of creating such a relationship if Clary were to submit a proposal.