Comptroller: City Follows Through on Capital Plan Just 52 Percent of the Time

Over the last fiscal year, just 52 percent of planned capital projects were actually begun, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Comptroller Scott Stringer on NY1 last night. (Screengrab: NY1)
Comptroller Scott Stringer on NY1 last night. (Screengrab: NY1) (Screengrab: NY1)

The capital plan is where the city funds the big, visible creations of government—think parks, roadways, schools. But over the last fiscal year, just 52 percent of planned capital projects were actually begun, according to a report from Comptroller Scott Stringer today.

“Capital commitments are only as good as your plans to complete them,” Mr. Stringer said today.

Mr. Stringer’s report measures the planned capital commitments in the budget to the actual capital commitments made by city agencies. Dating back to 2005, the city achieved just 60 percent of its planned commitments, Mr. Stringer said.

“It’s clear that some agencies are doing really well at this. Some aren’t—and by the way some agencies have a unique set of circumstances,” Mr. Stringer said.

The agency that fared worst was the Parks Department. In fiscal 2015, it began work on just 24 percent of the capital commitments it had planned in the 2014 capital budget.

That might come as no surprise to City Council members, who have long griped that capital plan is an ineffective, slow way for them to fund parks improvements and projects in their districts.

“Thats a Council hearing waiting to happen,” Mr. Stringer said of the Parks figures. “We’re certainly going to talk to the Parks Committee about that.”

At a Council hearing last year, Councilman David Greenfield called parks capital spending “the biggest scandal in the City of New York,” and one that amounts to “extortion.”

At that hearing, the Parks Department vowed to be more transparent and would launch a database allowing people to track whether projects had begun—something the department reiterated today.

“Since his arrival at NYC Parks in May 2014, Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver has demonstrated a commitment to making the capital process more efficient and transparent. Parks has already brought on 55 additional staffers to help expedite projects and launched a Capital Tracker that allows users to follow the progress of active projects. We are currently working to identify new ways to streamline and innovate our procedures,” a spokesman said.

Mr. Stringer also noted that capital commitments made by City Council members and borough presidents took even longer to translate into actual spending, with just 18.6 percent of the commitments having been made in fiscal year 2014 resulting in actual contracts in fiscal 2015.

“For borough presidents and the council, it is harder to see your projects completed. I think we should delve into that a little bit more,” Mr. Stringer said.

Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said his administration was “undertaking a rationalization of the capital plan, and that will be apparent in the Executive Budget.”

Comptroller: City Follows Through on Capital Plan Just 52 Percent of the Time