Thursday, December 22, 2011

Liu audit finds thousands is uncollected revenue from Bronx parks

Here's a story from this week's Riverdale Review.

By Brendan McHugh 

In the Bronx, parks’ concessions have over $58,000 lying on the table in uncollected revenue, a recent audit found. 

City Comptroller John C. Liu audited the Department of Parks and Recreation’s controls over recreational, dining, and retail concessions and found that better management could have yielded $8.8 million more in badly needed revenue for the city. 

In Riverdale, uncollected revenue from the Major Deegan gas stations, mobile food carts in Van Cortlandt Park and even a tennis professional in Seton Park are among the amenities in local parks that are not being forced to pay what they owe to the city. 

“Parks are not just about concessions, but concession contracts should be better managed so that revenue flows to the City without unnecessary interruption,” Liu said.

Jump below for the full story.
The audit concluded that other concessions could also have been better managed – to the tune of $6.6 million. These include the Central Park tennis courts, the ice skating rink at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and the snack bar at Orchard Beach in Pelham Bay Park. 

The worst incidences in Riverdale of concessions slipping by include the horse stables in Van Cortlandt and the two gas stations along the highway, both of which owe about $20,000. The stables allegedly owe over $100,000, of which they will repay with improvements to the stables. 

Most other payments range between $1,000 and $5,000. The tennis professional owes $757, the audit said. 

The audit was conducted from July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2010. 

Specifically, the parks department should have started key contract solicitations earlier and ensured more competition, auditors said. Parks also failed to maintain key documentation supporting contract decisions and preventing conflicts of interest. 

This announcement comes days before the parks department said they have forgone attempts to bring an ice-skating rink to Van Cortlant Park, an operation they would have done through the concession process. 

Only one company bid on the skating rink project, leaving no competition. 

The audit makes several recommendations which answer some of the issues of this summer’s troubles with the Van Cortlandt Park ice rink. 

“Track the solicitation and award process to ensure that it progresses in a timely matter; retain written explanations of rejected proposals that detail why an award is not in the City’s best interest; and examine why it receives a small number of responses to solicitations and initiate corrective action.” 

The parks department, as custodian of over 29,000 acres of City parkland, is responsible for soliciting and awarding concessions for various attractions. Typically, the concession operators pay a fee or a percentage of their total receipts – money that is used to support programs and services. 

Throughout the entire Bronx, over $514,000 has been left uncollected by the city. 

“It’s absurd. It’s costing taxpayers money,” said Geoffrey Croft, of the watchdog group NYC Parks Advocates. “There are not enough people collecting money and monitoring concessions.” 

The Parks Department has disagreed with many of the audit’s findings, maintaining that delays in implementing license agreements resulted from discussions made in the best interests of the City. It added that it cannot pursue concession revenue above all other considerations, such as legal obligations and long-term capital investments. The audit stated that the parks department could have nonetheless avoided many delays with better planning and without compromising other aims.

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