Mounted rangers on chopping block again

David Taber

After narrowly escaping the ax in last year’s city budget, the Franklin Park-based Boston Park Rangers mounted unit is facing oblivion again in 2011, the Gazette has learned.

The horses were saved last year after a fund-raising and advocacy effort involving a number of JP residents, as well as the local parks groups the Franklin Park Coalition and Emerald Necklace Conservancy, raised over $140,000 for the Parks Department including $50,000 for the horses.

The Boston Police Department’s mounted unit, also stabled in JP, was disbanded last year as well.

Boston Parks and Recreation Department spokesperson Mary Hines told the Gazette that the department’s 2011 budget does not contain the about $75,000 it would cost to maintain the eight horses city park rangers use to patrol the parks.

The department also has laid off close to 30 employees in recent years, mostly from its maintenance staff, she said.

Hines said retiring the horses would help soften the blow to the department’s staffing levels and would mean the 12 rangers on staff, who take care of the horses, can spend more time in the field.

Christine Poff of the Franklin Park Coalition told the Gazette that mounted rangers, along with the mounted police unit, have been important to maintaining public safety in the park.

“Horses are the only solution in a large park without paved paths,” she said.

The mounted rangers often patrol locally at Jamaica Pond Park.

Poff also said she wishes the mounted rangers were deployed more often in Franklin Park.

Hines said that, despite the expressed wishes of the donors at the time, the city did not agree last year to maintain the unit for more then a year.

Julie Crockford, head of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, one of the lead organizations in the effort to save the horses, did not return Gazette phone calls by press time.

JP resident Sarah Freeman, who, along with Sam Sherwood, donated money for the horses last year, questioned Katherine Weenick from the city Department of Administration and Finance at the April 27 meeting of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council.

“A lot of organizations rallied, and individuals gave money with the understanding that we wouldn’t have this conversation for [at least] two years,” Freeman said at the meeting.

But, Weenick said, the donated money has been spent. While there are still some outstanding pledges, the funds actually contributed “did not cover the costs for Fiscal Year 2010,” she said.

The city has a “fully audited financial statement. There is no question about what the money was spent on,” Weenick said.

Speaking to the Gazette the next day, Sherwood said he was confused as to why the city did not contact the donors prior to pulling the plug on the horses. “They did not ask us” for more help, he said.

Correction: A previous versions of this article on-line and in print contained incorrect information about how much private donors raised for the city Parks Department horses.

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