By Aaron Blevins, 8/09/2012
Gov. Brown allows $20 million for maintenance projects
After $54 million in unreported funding was found in two California Department of Parks and Recreation special funds, the state’s Department of Finance has conducted an audit of more than 560 special funds governed by the state.
No additional money was found, but the department did find discrepancies between its budget figures and those of the California Controller’s Office. The inconsistencies were attributed to differing accounting methods and human error.
“The parks department was kind of an outlier, an anomaly,” said H.D. Palmer, the deputy director of external affairs for the finance department. “We found nothing along the lines of what we found at parks.”
The $54 million found in the parks department’s special funds occurred less than a month after communities, organizations and governments raised money to keep 70 state parks from closing on July 1.
A California Natural Resources Agency investigation revealed that the department had been underreporting the money since at least 2000. Director Ruth Coleman resigned as a result, and her acting chief deputy, Michael Harris, was removed from his position.
Gov. Jerry Brown then requested that the finance department review the remainder of the state’s special funds. One of the funds contained $20 million, and last week, Brown called for that funding to be used toward maintenance projects at state parks, and to establish a matching fund for donations. He’s also seeking $10 million in Prop. 84 funds for maintenance projects.
“Much remains to be done to keep our parks open,” Brown said. “The disclosure that the Parks department had millions in additional revenues is mixed — it’s better to have more money than less, but it’s totally unacceptable for parks personnel to squirrel away public funds. I extend my deepest appreciation for the donors who have come to the aid of our parks in this time of need. I ask for their patience as we take all necessary steps to make sure this never happens again.”
Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) agreed. He said steps must be taken to ensure that agencies are completely candid about their budgets, “particularly at a time like this.”
“Every department is supposed to be completely direct about the amounts of money over which it has responsibility,” Feuer said. “There’s no legislation that will build on that point.”
The Legislature is back in session after a brief recess. Feuer said last week that the issue will be examined “very thoroughly” in the Assembly.
“I anticipate a great deal of discussion and focus on this issue,” he added.
In the interim, the finance department and controller’s office are investigating ways to prevent accounting discrepancies in the future.
“We have agreed to work with the department of finance to create new controls that make sure that dollars are adequately reflected in the budget in the future,” Jacob Roper, of the state controller’s office, said. “We’re developing those now.”
He added that the controller’s office is conducting a payroll audit in relation to inappropriate payouts to parks employees, who were paid for leave time inappropriately.