By Kelsey Durham
In a recent audit by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, Queens was heralded as the model borough whose Parks Department tree pruning practices should be followed by the rest of the city, but one area leader is skeptical of that finding.
After seeing the report, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) questioned whether the results were something Queens should be proud of or if they signaled the need for change within the borough’s Parks Department operations.
In an audit made public by Stringer’s office Aug. 17, the comptroller revealed that Parks offices in four of the five boroughs, excluding Queens, failed to properly prune tree limbs or provide the maintenance needed.
It also found that the borough offices in Manhattan and Staten Island failed to review vendor invoices before making payments to ensure contractors were only paid for pruning eligible trees, which Stringer defined as those with a diameter of 5 inches or greater when measured at the height of an adult’s chest.
Queens was the only borough, Stringer said, that had no issues with its pruning practices or how they were reported. According to Stringer’s report, 41.8 percent of all trees eligible for pruning across the city, equivalent to 204,825 trees out of 490,417 total, were in Queens.
“Pruning operations in Queens are a model for the rest of the city,” Stringer said. “The Parks Department needs to implement reforms that will help protect all taxpayers, boost services and ensure greater safety in all neighborhoods.”
But despite the praise, Avella said he was skeptical that tree pruning in Queens has been as successful as Stringer reported.
“Although I’m glad [Stringer] found the response of the Queens Borough Forestry Department to be much better than that of the other boroughs, the Parks Department has certainly failed to provide proper tree maintenance and speedy stump removals throughout all five boroughs in the city of New York,” Avella said.
The senator argued that the Queens Parks Department has ignored the needs and desires of residents by continuously planting new trees, despite opposition from the community, and failed to care for them as needed.
Last year, a 30-year-old pregnant woman was killed in Flushing’s Kissena Park after a tree fell over and landed on top of her while she sat on a park bench. Avella called the death a preventable tragedy and asked the mayor’s office to suspend its Million Tree Program, whose goal is to add more greenery to the city, and instead funnel those resources into maintaining existing trees to prevent them from becoming dangerous.
“This lack of care has had costly consequences,” Avella said this week after seeing the audit report. “I have stated time and time again the Parks Department must better address, and not just respond to, the hundreds of tree concerns that are reported in Queens on a daily basis. The bottom line is that being the best in a bad situation is still not good enough.”
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.