State Police patrols hit hard by budget cuts

Add another possible casualty to a growing list of programs suffering from a fiscal crisis and a state budget that looks grimmer and grimmer: dedicated State Police patrols of local parks and the Neponset Greenway trails.

About $50,000 to $100,000 is provided every year for additional patrols to handle extra capacity in warm weather months, according to Senator Jack Hart. Since 1999, a specific line item directing security patrols along the trail, which stretches through Hyde Park, Mattapan, Dorchester and Milton has been part of the state budget.

But Hart said he was unsure whether the money will be there for the patrols this year, as economists are calling the fiscal crisis the “worst in Massachusetts history.” Hart said the state appeared to be “billions of dollars short of paying for our bills.”

The House budget significantly cut the patrols in its version of the budget, which it signed off on last week. Independent budget analysts, such as Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation president Michael Widmer, are saying the House budget is over a billion out of balance.

Hart said there is little money available for “vital services,” let alone patrols on the Neponset Greenway.

“It’s something we’re looking at,” he said.

Hart said he supported increasing the sales tax, as the House did last week, but the Senate might hike it further. The House increased the sales tax to 6.25 percent from 5 percent, with lawmakers saying the bump will generate $900 million.

Valerie Burns, executive director of the Boston Natural Areas Network, said the dedicated patrols help keep the greenway “relatively safe and problem-free.”

Burns and others worry that if the patrols are curtailed, the greenway could see more incidents of vandalism, as the area encountered last month. Racists insults, Nazi swastikas and anti-gay slurs were spray-painted on park benches and two MBTA stations on the Red Line’s Mattapan trolley line, among other areas of the greenway.