Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Park Tax Increase Support Perplexing

I am always somewhat perplexed when a private enterprise, which I assume the Sacramento Bee still is, insist the only answer to helping parks is more taxes rather than exploring other options, like the public/private partnerships which have been done with Gibson Ranch Park and the Effie Yeaw Nature Center recently, and the Sacramento Zoo sometime ago; but that is what the Bee, in this editorial is insisting, increasing taxes.

Increasing taxes was appropriate decades ago when local, state, and national governments were growing to serve the basic public priorities of public safety, transportation infrastructure, public safety nets, etc.; but as has been all too well documented—by the Sacramento Bee about the number of county retirees with six figure retirements while still young enough to take on new jobs while drawing their retirement benefits, and by City Journal about the retirement benefits problem nationally—government has gotten so bloated that feeding it any more taxes has become counter productive.

An excerpt from the editorial.

“Over a period of years, the elected Sacramento County Board of Supervisors has allowed the regional park system, including the American River Parkway, to undergo a slow, steady decline.

“Finally, supervisors reached the point where they were considering zeroing out parks from the county budget. The county could not guarantee safe, clean and properly maintained parks. It could not develop long-held parklands, which have limited or no public access. It could not prepare a park and trail system for the population of the future.

“Per-resident general fund spending on regional parks dropped from $5.44 per year a decade ago to a paltry $1.33 in 2009-10. Today, the general fund provides just 19 percent of the regional parks budget, with fees providing 41 percent and other sources providing the balance.

“Supervisors did the right thing last May, committing to study governing and financing alternatives with the aim of placing a measure on the ballot in November 2012. They vowed to keep the parks budget at bare bones until then. So now comes decision time.

“The Grassroots Working Group charged with studying alternatives met once a week for a year. It raised private funds to hire the Trust for Public Land to study five options and commissioned a firm to do scientific polling of likely voters.

“At the backdrop were two major failures: An unsuccessful effort in 2007 to create a joint powers authority for the American River Parkway and an unsuccessful effort in 1994 to create a dependent parks district with county supervisors as the governing board and funding from $10 a year in property taxes.

“Voters clearly indicated they want something other than the current failed model, with county supervisors running the show, and they don't want property owners alone sharing the burden for parks.

“So the Grassroots Working Group recommended an independent parks district, based on the East Bay Regional Parks model, to run the parks, with its own elected board.

“It would be funded by a sales tax, so people outside the county who visit parks would pay, too. Twenty-five percent of the funds would go to the 17 special parks districts and four city park systems, including Sacramento, Folsom, Galt and Isleton, and not just to the county's regional park system.”