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Paterson promises school aid payments by June 30, state parks closings move forward

By Mark Scott

Albany, NY – The Paterson administration says it will pay billions of dollars it owes to school districts by the end of June. But first, the State Legislature will have to approve a delay of a June 1st deadline for such payments.

The proposal will be part of an emergency spending bill that will be submitted to state lawmakers Monday.

That bill will also include part of the 4 percent raises for unionized workers that Governor David Paterson has withheld since April 1. A federal judge ordered the Democrat to pay out the raises after the unions sued.

State parks officials say they will start shutting down or keeping closed dozens of parks and historic sites next week because of New York's budget crisis.

The gates at 41 parks and 14 historic sites will be locked starting Monday. Parks officials say most of the properties were closed for the winter or had reduced services, but typically would be preparing to reopen for the Memorial Day weekend.

The State Legislature has voted to restore more than $11 million in parks funding cut from Governor David Paterson's budget proposal. But there's no agreement yet on a spending plan that's already more than 40 days late. Among the closed parks are Woodlawn Beach in Hamburg and Knox Farm in East Aurora.

Lawn mowing, trail upkeep and other basic maintenance work had already been suspended at the sites. Starting Monday, restrooms at those properties will stay locked and picnic tables will remain in storage.

"Now that we are approaching Memorial Day, our high season, we do have to take these more affirmative steps to make sure we can secure those savings," Eileen Larrabee, a parks spokeswoman, said. "We do consider these closures to be temporary, whether it be a year or less."

While the warmer weather has brought out people to parks that aren't officially open, starting Monday they'll be asked to leave for safety reasons, she said.

"We close parks all the time," Larrabee said. "We close parks at night, during the offseason. We close areas of parks at a certain time, so it's not unusual. When people are at a closed park, we will ask them to leave."