Saturday, July 28, 2012

California park system found $54 million in two state accounts

....  "John Laird, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, which oversees the state parks department, revealed last week that the department had been sitting on $54 million in "hidden assets" for at least 12 years. Some of that money could have been used to avoid the park closures and steep service reductions that have played out over the past two years amid deep state budget cuts.

Read more here:

Park funds found behind this tree
State parks Director Ruth Coleman, the longest-serving director in the 150-year history of the parks department, resigned last week in the wake of the discovery. In her resignation letter, Coleman said she had been unaware of the surplus, but was resigning because she bore ultimate responsibility for the department. In comments to The Bee, Coleman blamed her deputy director of administrative services, Manuel Thomas Lopez, for failing to inform her about the surplus. 

....  Lopez also was central to another department scandal: A Bee investigation published earlier this month revealed that 56 employees at parks headquarters took part in an unauthorized vacation buyout program last year that cost the state more than $271,000. 

....  According to Laird, the surplus money was held in two funds at the parks department: $20 million in the Parks and Recreation Fund, which collects revenue produced at the parks; and $34 million in the Off Highway Vehicle Trust Fund, which collects money from license fees and fuel taxes on off-road vehicles."  The Modesto Bee/Matt Weiser, 7/26/12 "Man central to California parks department scandal says he told supervisors about surplus funds."   Read Article. 

"Saying they feel betrayed by the discovery of $54 million hidden in two state parks accounts, a growing number of groups that donated money to keep California state parks from closing this year now say they want a refund -- or at least a binding promise from lawmakers to spend the extra money on parks.

There has been no evidence that any of the money was embezzled or stolen, and Coleman says she did not know of it. Still, the discovery came at a politically difficult time for the governor. Brown announced last year that the state was so short of cash reporting it to the state Department of Finance that 70 state parks -- one-quarter of the entire system -- had to be closed by July 1 to save $22 million. Critics called the threat a political gimmick to convince middle-class voters to support Brown's tax increase measure on the upcoming November ballot.

When dozens of civic groups, local cities and businesses stepped forward with donations, the parks closures were averted. The state attorney general's office is now investigating.Silicon Valley Mercury News/Paul Rogers 7/26/12.  "Donors who bailed out state parks want their money back."   Read Article. 

Related article - "State parks scam", Los Angeles Times "California parks had $54 million hidden surplus, officials say", reprint on Fix Pacifica, 7/20/12 by Steve Sinai.

Reference - California Parks system. 

Posted by Kathy Meeh

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