Jul 28, 2014

Withheld Funds to Help Keep State Parks Open

The Senate's plan would match private donations made to keep parks open and pay for long deferred park maintenance projects, according to Sen. Mark Leno.

Withheld Funds to Help Keep State Parks Open Withheld Funds to Help Keep State Parks Open

Millions of dollars in funds that were underreported by the Department of Parks and Recreation would be used keep California’s state parks open to the public under a proposal announced today by Sen. Mark Leno.

“Our parks are important to all Californians, and our top priority is to ensure that people in every community continue to have access to these natural treasures for years to come,” said Leno, who chairs the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee.

The Senate plan would also match private donations made to keep parks open and pay for long deferred park maintenance projects. Leno proposed legislation to appropriate the funds for the benefit of the state’s park system during an hearing today on how the department was able to underreport $20.4 million in the State Parks and Recreation Fund.

In July, after officials learned the department secretly withheld $54 million in surplus money for as long as 12 years. State Parks carried out a secret vacation buyout program for employees at department headquarters last year, costing the state more than $271,000.

The discovery, which shocked and angered members of the public as well as politicians like Assemblyman Jared Huffman, was made after lawmakers gouged $22 million from the parks budget.

Around $34 million of the withheld money is reserved for off-road vehicle parks, which leaves the $20.4 million for the Senate’s plan. In the beginning of August, to close the large funding gap that exists for state parks, but they help.

State parks such as in San Rafael and Olompali just north of Novato have been threatened of closure because of state budget problems. Several nonprofit groups, such as Friends of China Camp, have raised funds and

“While we clearly need to fix the serious problem that allowed more than $20 million to go virtually unnoticed, the silver lining today is that we have an opportunity to prevent the closure of parks and invest in long overdue repairs throughout the parks and recreation system,” Leno said.  

The Senate proposal places a moratorium on full park closures for two years, gives the Parks and Recreation Commission more oversight authority and a role in reviewing deferred maintenance, provides a sustainable, long-term strategy for park funding and appropriates the found money exclusively to keep parks open.

Leno’s committee also heard testimony regarding reporting discrepancies between the Department of Finance and the State Controller’s Office in the overall accounting of the state’s special funds.

The State Parks and Recreation Fund is one of the state’s more than 500 special funds with dedicated funding sources that support specific public programs. The Department of Finance recently conducted a review of those funds, finding $3.9 billion in discrepancies.

Most of those discrepancies were attributed to differences in accounting methods and the fiscal years within which those reports were made, according to the Department of Finance.

Leno proposed legislation requiring, on an annual basis, that the Controller’s Office and Department of Finance use the same accounting methods for the special funds in conjunction with preparation of the annual state budget.

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