Calif. Officials Tell How to Tap into Park Fund

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November 8, 2012 by   - () Leave a Comment

A little more than a month after Gov. Jerry Brown set aside money to help keep California's state parks open, officials came to Redding on Wednesday (Nov. 7) to tell local stakeholders how to get their share of the funds.

Included in the $20.5 million Brown allocated are $10 million to match donations generated by private groups and local government, the Record-Searchlight reported.

The $10 million must be used for personnel and maintenance expenses to keep a park open and has to be spent by June 30, 2014.

"This is one-time money; it's not ongoing," Sedrick Mitchell, deputy director of external affairs for state Parks and Recreation, told the group.

The state has received about $4 million in promises from 11 donor agreements, but it actually has about only $900,000 in hand, parks spokesman Roy Stearns said.

While requests for matches will be met on a first-come, first-served basis, Mitchell assured the group that the 70 parks formerly on a closure list would receive top priority.

What's more, the state won't match a donation for a project or expense that isn't critical to keep a park open, Mitchell said.

Brown's signature in September came in the wake of news in July that state Parks and Recreation officials sat on nearly $54 million in surplus money for years while budget cuts threatened to close parks. Nearly $34 million of that was in a separate off-road vehicle fund.

Gary Lewis, who chairs the Save Old Shasta Committee, said it was a "gut shot" to him when heard the news. After months of soliciting donations from the public to keep Shasta State Park open, he told the gathering Wednesday he felt he had misled people.

Lewis asked state Parks and Recreation officials for help to get the right message out. He also wondered if maybe an easy-to-follow online tracking system be set up would explain how the program is evolving and how the money is being spent,

"I appreciate you folks being here," Lewis said. "Hopefully you will enable me to give those folks (donors and potential donors) a better message."

Stearns said news that $54 million had been stashed away stunned everybody.

"We absolutely understand and sympathize with those who are angry about this unreported money — we are angry, too, and we are going to fix it," Stearns said by phone after Wednesday's meeting. "We hope people understand that this is strictly two-year bridge-the-gap money. … If nobody allocates any further funds at end of two years for state parks, we are right back to a closure list."

Since 2006-07, the state park's general fund has dropped nearly 40%, Stearns said.

"None of that money has been returned," Stearns said.


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