LA WATCHDOG--Ever since Eric Garcetti became Mayor in 2013, the City’s General Fund revenues have increased by $2 billion (44%), to a record $6.5 billion. And despite lots of lip service, the Mayor and City Council President Herb Wesson have not made any effort to restore full funding for the Department of Recreation and Parks or develop a plan to maintain and repair its parks and facilities.
In 2010, to fund massive budget deficits caused by a surge in employee compensation and pension contributions, the City instituted its “full cost recovery” program that targeted Rec & Parks with “charge backs” for utilities, pension contributions, and health care expense. Since that time, Rec and Parks budget has been slammed with $570 million of reimbursements, resulting in cuts to services and to the maintenance of our parks and their facilities.
In the upcoming budget beginning on July 1, the Department is being hit with $81 million of reimbursements. This amounts to 38% of the charter mandated funding for Rec and Parks of $216 million, an amount equal to 0.0325% of the assessed value (the “Assessed Value”) of property in the City (in excess of $625 billion).
But with the 44% surge in City revenues over the last seven years, now is the time to eliminate or offset the “full cost recovery” program and restore net revenues to the levels specified in the City’s Charter.
At the same time, the City is considering a $2 billion program for Rec & Parks to “replace, renovate, and/or upgrade existing facilities” that have been neglected over the years because of the lack of proper funding. This would cost $100 million a year for the next 20 years.
Together, the needs of Rec & Parks total $180 million.
Rather than raise our taxes once again, the City should follow the example of the Library, the only other department to be smacked with the “full cost recovery” program.
In 2011, the City Council placed on the ballot Measure L, the Public Library Funding Act, that restored the Library’s revenues over four years by increasing the charter mandated funding by 71%, from 0.0175% to 0.03% of the Assessed Value. This measure was approved by 63% of the voters despite substantial opposition from The Times, the Police Protective League, and the League of Women Voters.
For Rec & Parks, the City Council should place on the ballot a measure that doubles its charter mandated funding, from 0.0325% to 0.065% of the Assessed Value. This will not only offset the draconian reimbursements under the ‘full cost recovery” program that targeted Rec & Parks, but allow the Department to address its neglected and failing infrastructure.
At the same time, the Department needs to follow up on the many excellent recommendations made by Controller Ron Galperin in his September 2017 Survey and Report Card, especially as it relates to its filthy bathrooms.
The Department also needs to improve its transparency by entering into a Memorandum of Understanding with the City’s 99 Neighborhood Councils, by establishing more effective oversight by strengthening the qualifications of its Board of Commissioners, and by developing a more robust management information system.
Over the years, our Garcetti, Wesson and even Budget Chair Paul Krekorian have advocated for full funding of the Department of Recreation and Parks. Now is their chance.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. He can be reached at: [email protected].)