Gaines Calls for Audit of State Parks System

Sacramento, CA…Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin, today announced that she has requested a state audit to examine possible mismanagement within the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

While 70 state parks were slated for closure due to budget constraints, a Sacramento Bee article revealed that Parks Department management staff took advantage of a costly vacation buyout. In addition, there is a discrepancy regarding staffing. Budget records show staffing within the department has grown by almost 1,000 workers over the past decade, yet the department has not provided accounting for the $24 million in savings from an estimated 500 staff vacancies.

In a letter to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, Gaines wrote, “The failure of the director to monitor her own staff, as well as the lack of detailed information from the department, raises serious concerns about the potential for other waste, fraud or abuse that may be occurring in this department.”

Assemblywoman Gaines has requested an audit to examine specific staffing and operational concerns including:

Staffing Level Accountability: Park positions have grown from 3,247 positions in 2001 to 4,094 today. Assembly Republican fiscal staff estimates approximately $24 million from at least 500 vacancies has not been accounted for. In addition, the department uses anecdotal information to determine staffing levels. The request asks the state auditor to determine how to improve accountability for unit operations.

Costly Pay Perks: According to the Sacramento Bee, $271,000 of funding was used to buy out vacation time for various employees. The audit would determine whether the department had the authority to divert funding in this manner.

Public-Private Partnership Details: To help prevent park closures, several local agencies and non-profits have agreed to run numerous state parks. However, details on these arrangements have not been disclosed to the Legislature. The audit would seek operating and concession agreements including donation amounts and lengths of agreements.

Funding Oversight: The state budget approved diverting millions of dollars from the Off-Highway Vehicle Trust Fund to the State Parks Department. The audit requests more information about how this funding will be used. In addition, on a bipartisan basis, the Legislature approved a market-fee structure. The audit would look into the data-based research used by the department to determine this fee structure.

In a bipartisan effort, lawmakers worked together to craft legislation, Assembly Bill 1589,which proposes both long and short-term funding strategies for keeping open many of the state parks. The measure currently awaits approval in the Senate.

“Our beautiful state parks are enjoyed by California residents and visitors from around the world, which helps the economies of neighboring communities. Closing parks can be pennywise but pound foolish. That’s precisely why I’ve worked across the aisle to protect our state’s treasures from the instability of the state budget now and into the future,” said Gaines.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee will meet August 7, 2012 to consider this audit request.

Assemblywoman Beth Gaines represents the 4th Assembly District, which includes portions of Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Alpine Counties.