Parks face budget woes

Published 1:00 am Friday, March 25, 2011

Bill Ross (left), chairman of the N.C. Parks and Recreation Authority, and Gil Davis, a Washington City Council member, place platters of barbecue on a table for a luncheon prior to the authority’s meeting at the N.C. Estuarium on Thursday. (WDN Photo/Mike Voss)

“We’ve got some challenges,” N.C. Parks and Recreation Authority Chairman Bill Ross told his authority colleagues as they met Thursday afternoon at the North Carolina Estuarium in Washington.

Ross was referring to budget challenges and the possibility the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation could be reorganized and consolidated with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Among the budget challenges the authority faces are revenue for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, which the authority administers.


Ross, a former secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said he’s concerned with proposals to tinker with the current funding system that supports parks and recreation in the state. Ross said that “revenue stream has been the heart, soul and engine” that makes the state’s parks and recreation system run as well as it does. Ross indicated he would prefer the N.C. General Assembly and other state leaders leave well enough alone.

“The Legislature, of course, is in town, and there have been many very interesting proposals, some of which will affect us,” said Carol Tingley, deputy director of the division, during the meeting.

Tingley said the division and NCDENR oppose the proposal to reorganize the division and merge it with the Wildlife Resources Commission.

Ross also expressed concerns with moves that could reduce PARTF’s budget, thereby reducing revenue that could be used to provide PARTF grants to local governments and help maintain and enhance existing state parks.

Earlier this month, the General Assembly ratified a bill that, along with other specific budget-cutting measures, trimmed $8.5 million from the state program and transferred it into the state’s general fund to balance the state budget for fiscal year 2010-2011. That version of the bill has been discarded. The new version, according to Tingley, calls on Gov. Beverly Perdue to save the same amount of money but without specifying where the savings would be realized, Tingley noted.

“The governor will need to take some money from some place to make up this amount of money to put into next year’s hopper,” Tingley said.

The budget plan Perdue submitted to the Legislature calls from trimming $3 million from the division’s budget, Tingley said. Perdue’s plan does not cut PARTF monies, but it would result in $3 million less in “operating money” for the division, she added. The plan lets the division decide what areas of its budget to trim, Tingley said.

Meanwhile, the division awaits a final decision by the Legislature on the state’s budget and the effects of that decision on its budget, Tingley said.

PARTF revenues

The PARTF revenue that comes from the tax levied on real-estate sales have been dismal in recent years, Tingley noted.

“You can see the trust-fund revenues are continuing to sink, not a lot, not dramatically like we saw a couple of years ago, but we still have not hit the bottom and started to turn around, ” Tingley said, referring to a report on trust-fund revenues.

PARTF revenue comes from a tax levied on real-estate transactions, sales of personalized license plates and investment earnings.

Sixty-five percent of PARTF money goes to improve state parks. Thirty percent of PARTF funding goes to local governments. The remaining 5 percent of PARTF money goes to the Coastal and Estuarine Water Access Program. A grant of up to $500,000 may be awarded to a local government during each grant cycle.

This PARTF grant cycle, 80 local governments submitted applications for PARTF grants. Those grant requests totaled $23.4 million. Revenue for grants to local governments for fiscal year 2010-2011, which ends June 30, is expected to be $7.5 million before transfers that are likely to occur to address the state budget shortfall, according to a state document.

Beaufort County is seeking a $67,000 PARTF grant to help buy land for a proposed public boat-launching and fishing-pier complex at Crisp Landing on Blounts Creek.

Additional funding for this year’s grant applications would allow the authority to select more grant recipients from this year’s applicant pool, according to a document in the agenda for the meeting.

In move to make additional funding available, the authority unanimously voted to revise the PARTF funding cycle and award additional grants based on revenue from the current fiscal year as well as the first two quarters of fiscal year 2011-12. The change allows PARTF revenue to be distributed to local governments more quickly in future years. PARTF revenue could be awarded to local grants as it is received. Under the current PARTF funding cycle schedule, PARTF revenue accumulates for nearly 10 months before the authority selects grant recipients at its May meeting.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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