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Good news on Goodhue

Good news on Goodhue 02/27/2011

By Staten Island Advance Editorial

Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the presence of the Children’s Aid Society on Staten Island. The Society’s Goodhue Center in New Brighton has been a haven for tens of thousands of Staten Island youngsters over those years, offering after-school activities, a summer day camp and a variety of social services.

But in recent years, the Society has found itself with more children to serve and less money with which to do it. And that was before the recession hit. Leaders of the organization sagely sought to position the organization to meet that evolving challenge when, in 2005, they announced that they needed to sell off most of the 42-acre Goodhue tract, one of its most valuable assets.

The announcement had officials in this borough scurrying to mount a campaign to acquire the Goodhue tract. Several, including Borough President James Molinaro, former Rep. Michael McMahon and former North Shore Councilman Kenneth Mitchell, set aside discretionary money toward its eventual acquisition.

This suited Society officials just fine. They made it clear from the start that they preferred that this beautiful, hilly, wooded tract remain as public open space, And they pledged to do what they could to make it easier for the city to acquire the property.

The society’s director at the time, C. Warren Moses, declared that the city’s acquisition of the property would be “a win-win for everybody,” but he added, “We can’t wait five years.”

In October of 2005, the city’s commitment to buying Goodhue seemed a certainty.

That was six years ago.

Borough officials managed to pool a combined $9 million to buy Goodhue. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg touted his success in saving Goodhue during his re-election campaign in 2009.

But last year, the Parks Department, to whose budget the Goodhue funds had been allocated, hijacked most of that earmarked money to avoid deep service reductions necessitated by mandated budget cuts. Just $1.5 million was left in the pot and the city seemed almost as far as ever away from raising enough money to buy Goodhue.

Again, the Children’s Aid Society’s director had warned in 2005 that there was a limit to the agency’s patience. Last week, as the mayor prepared to release his executive budget, the current president and CEO of the Children’s Aid Society, Richard Buery, said in a statement, “If funds are not allocated in Mayor Bloomberg’s preliminary budget toward the purchase of this land, we have no choice but to put the property on the market.”

Who could blame him? The city’s dithering on this issue has been inexcusable. And its wink-and-a-nod approval of Parks’ diversion of money dedicated to the purchase of Goodhue was outrageous.

However, the crisis seems to have passed . . . for now. The mayor’s capital budget did contain a new allocation of $6 million to begin buying the Goodhue tract in phases.
That’s a total of only $7.5 million, enough to acquire 15 of the 38 acres for sale, but still well short of the eventual total purchase price, estimated to be almost $20 million. But the Children’s Aid Society, which has every right to be angry and frustrated, instead expressed optimism at this “great first step.”

“I am thrilled that the funding was included in the budget,” Mr. Buery said. He said the Society can soon use the money from this installment to provide services and the city, in a tight financial bind, can still acquire the property in stages.

So it’s back to a win-win situation, again, thanks primarily to the Children’s Aid Society’s remarkable forbearance and commendable willingness to work with the city despite the latter’s maddening on-again, off-again commitment.

Now, that commitment is on again. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe rightly said acquiring Goodhue is “an opportunity that’s not to be missed,” adding, “We’ve always wanted to acquire Goodhue.”

We can’t help but remark that this opportunity was very nearly missed because of Parks’ decision to use the Goodhue money to fill its budgetary holes. Only the Children’s Aid Society’s good intentions have prevented that opportunity from being lost.

And let’s not forget that some $9 million had been set aside for Goodhue before, and it was “re-appropriated.” Some might say stolen. That money, like this latest allocation, was not secure in some guarded vault. It’s just a line on a computer screen ledger and it could disappear again, depending on the exigencies of the moment in the trying budgetary times ahead.

Now, there’s $7.5 million available – $1.5 million less, it should be noted, than there was in the pot before Parks looted it last year. We’re glad the mayor kicked in the money, but we’ll feel a lot better once it’s been turned over to the Children’s Aid Society and that first 15-acre portion of Goodhue finally becomes city parkland.