Carol Ash Leaves Office of Parks, Historic Preservation

Considering I’m sharing a dais with Carol Ash next week, I can’t believe I missed this news, but better late than never I suppose.

Governor David A. Paterson announced on September 28th, that Carol Ash will resign her position as Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) effective October 13.

&#8220Over the past four years Commissioner Ash has led her agency with dedication, integrity and professionalism,&#8221 Governor Paterson said. &#8220Despite these extraordinarily challenging times, the Commissioner presided the over construction and opening of the remarkable Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, a very successful U.S. Open Golf Championship at Bethpage State Park and initiated an effort to rebuild and restore the agency’s aging infrastructure.&#8221

During Commissioner Ash’s term more than $200 million was invested in roadways, bathhouses, historic structures and electrical and plumbing systems. She promoted public-private partnerships and encouraged strong relationships with Friends Groups and non-for-profits. She also saw visitation rates climb, as more than 56 million people visited the State’s 178 parks and 35 historic sites in 2009.

Governor Paterson appointed Andy Beers to the position of Acting Commissioner. Mr. Beers has served as OPRHP Executive Deputy Commissioner since 2007. He has been responsible for the day-to-day operations of the agency, as well as overseeing the continuing efforts to revitalize the State parks system. Prior to serving as Executive Deputy Commissioner, Beers served as Deputy State Director at the Nature Conservancy. He received his B.A. from Colgate University and his M.S. from Cornell University.

14 State Historic Sites, 41 State Parks to Close, Another 24 At Risk

At least 14 state historic sites and 41 state parks are targeted to close if Governor Paterson’s Executive Budget is enacted, according to a list released today by the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (OPRHP). Twenty-four more parks and historic sites will face severely reduced hours and services. The historic site closures would mean nearly half of the 36 state operated historic sites would close indefinitely. In all a total of 25 of 36 historic sites will either close or under threat of closure. A complete list of the closings and those threatened is included after the jump.

“If parks are forced to close it will be the first time in the 125-year history of the System,&#8221 Robin Dropkin, Executive Director of Parks & Trails New York, said. &#8220Even during the Great Depression our parks remained open for people to enjoy and spend time with their families in nature.”

According to a 2009 report [pdf], state parks and historic sites generate $1.9 billion annually in economic activity statewide. Visitors from outside the community account for about 40% of that activity&#8211visitors and money communities will lose if parks are forced to close.

Additionally, state parks and historic sites account for 20,000 non-park jobs statewide. These are long-term, sustainable jobs that will last as long as our state invests in its parks system. The investment in State Parks is a good one- for every dollar the state spends on parks, it gets back $5 dollars in economic activity.

“News of the closings will devastate many communities as their citizens rely on parks for affordable, close to home recreation and their businesses rely on parks to bring in revenue,” said Dropkin.

In addition to economic benefits, state parks preserve wildlife habitat, provide an escape for millions of New Yorkers in these difficult economic times, and protect the state’s heritage for future generations. The NYS Park System is the oldest and most historic state park system in the nation.

The State Parks budget is only one-quarter of one percent of the total state budget. The savings to the state from closing the 57 parks is estimated to be $6.3 million.

Here is the list of Historic Sites to close (and those under threat of closure according to a memo leaked to the media yesterday):

Long Island Region
Walt Whitman State Historic Site [Under Threat]

Lower Hudson Region
Fort Montgomery Historic Site
Knox Headquarters Historic Site
New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Site
Stony Point State Historic Site
Philipse Manor Hall Historic Site
Senate House State Historic Site [Under Threat]
Washington’s Headquarters Sate Historic Site [Under Threat]

Taconic Region
John Jay Homestead Historic Site [Under Threat]
Staatsburgh State Historic Site [Under Threat]
Olana State Historic Site {Under Threat]

Saratoga-Capital Region (Including the Adirondacks)

Bennington Battlefield State Park
Crailo State Historic Site [Under Threat]
Crown Point State Historic Site [Under Threat]
John Brown Farm Historic Site
Johnson Hall State Historic Site
Schoharie Crossing Historic Site
Schuyler Mansion Historic Site

Central Region
Fort Ontario State Historic Site
Herkimer Home Historic Site
Hyde Hall State Historic Site [Under Threat]
Lorenzo State Historic Site [Under Threat]
Oriskany Battlefield/Steuben State Historic Site

Finger Lakes Region
Ganondagan State Historic Site [Under Threat]

Thousands Island Region
Sackets Harbor State Historic Site

State Proposes Sales Tax on Preservation Projects

According to the New York Landmark Society a proposed change in New York State Tax Law would adversely affect preservation projects in the state:

A proposed change to the New York State Tax Law would harm preservation and increase sales tax on preservation projects by narrowing the definition of “capital improvements” on buildings. The new language would limit the definition to apply only to projects that constitute “new construction, or a new addition to or total reconstruction of existing construction.” This is a change from the current definition which allows an exemption of sales tax on labor for the many preservation projects whose scope is less than 100% reconstruction of a building.

As a result of the proposed change, many renovations, restorations and rehabilitations of existing buildings would no longer qualify as “capital improvements” and the labor associated with these projects would become subject to the State sales tax (4%), and possibly also the New York City sales tax (4%) and MTA sales tax (.375%). At present, these projects generally pay sales tax on building materials but not on labor.

Please e-mail Governor Paterson today by clicking here saying:&#8221please continue using the current definition of &#8216-capital improvement’ in part PP of Tax Law 1101(b)(9) and not limit it to new construction. The proposed changes work against preservation projects by adding a sales tax to the cost of labor. Preservation projects promote economic revitalization, build communities, and save energy.&#8221

Libraries Protest Tax Collection Services

The New York State Library Association (NYLA) called on Governor David Paterson and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance today to immediately end pushing tax form distribution and customer service duties onto local public libraries.

&#8220Not only are you asking us to do more with less, but you are asking libraries to help collect the very tax dollars you are taking away from us,&#8221 said Michael Borges, NYLA’s executive director. “Our members are local community libraries, not state tax collection agencies.”

The NYS Department of Taxation and Finance has discontinued mailing out forms to NYS taxpayers, and a press release and postcard sent to New Yorkers informed citizens to either visit their public libraries to pick up tax forms or download them from the internet. The move was labeled a cost cutting move, saving the Department of Taxation and Finance roughly $1 million annually. However, the cost of handling tax form distribution has been largely dumped on New York’s libraries, which are now expected to print out tax forms and provide tax-related customer service.

“Libraries are responsible for not only providing the forms, but also for helping taxpayers fill out the forms and answering other tax related questions,” said Borges. “Library traffic is up, circulation is up, and the types of library services in high-demand continue to climb while our state funding is getting cut. Adding tax form services simply shifts the costs and administrative burdens from state agencies to local libraries, and we are in no position to accept these unfunded mandates.”

“In recent years we have had hundreds of state and Federal forms given to us by the state and picked up by local residents. There is absolutely no way that we could afford to absorb the printing costs if we are forced to provide these forms entirely on our own” said Kevin Gallagher of the Middletown Thrall Library. “Imagine the cost of hundreds of tax forms, considering our budget is already being cut. It’s just not feasible.”

”I don’t mind providing this service, as I consider anything which brings more people into the library, and which increases our value to the community, to be an asset. But, certainly, it is incongruous for the state to cut library funding while it is savings millions itself by shifting its responsibilities to the very libraries it is cutting”, said Ed Dunscombe, Director, George Johnson Memorial Library in Endicott.

“This year we have spent more staff time and effort on tax-related services than ever before, &#8220said Barbara Nichols Randall, Director of the Guilderland Public Library, “We have a long standing partnership with AARP to help people in our community prepare their taxes but the mandate that local libraries replace the state in providing tax forms to the public is an added cost for the library itself. In January alone, our estimated staff cost for this service is almost $2,500, not to mention the overhead expense incurred by using our copiers and paper supplies to print the forms.&#8221

“It’s a service we provide happily, but it takes staff away from serving patrons’ other reference needs and is having an impact on our supply budget,” added Mrs. Randall. &#8220This year we estimated that we will save the community $42,000 with this service.&#8221

The proposed 2009-10 Executive Budget reduces library aid by $18 million or 18% to $80.5 million, a level not seen since 1993. These cuts are on top of the two cuts already imposed on libraries in 2008, reducing Library Aid from $102 million in 2007 to $98.5 million at the end of 2008. The proposed cuts will also result in a corresponding loss of $2 million in federal funds for library services in New York, reducing federal aid from $9 million to $7 million by 2011.

About NYLA: The New York Library Association &#8212- America’s first state library association &#8212- was founded in 1890 to lead in the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship to enhance learning, quality of life, and equal opportunity for all New Yorkers. Today, NYLA is working stronger than ever to promote its mission of supporting libraries and information services.