Measure A half-cent sales tax to help San Mateo County Parks

April 23, 2013, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal

San Mateo County Board of Supervisors to discuss

reestablishing the County Parks Department

San Mateo County may spend more than $5.2 million in revenue from the Measure A half-cent sales tax to reestablish its Parks Department as a stand-alone agency and, with it, tackle long-deferred maintenance and staffing reductions that have left many facilities with truncated hours, overdue repairs and concerns about safety.

The parks need more than $20 million in capital projects over the next five years with an annual cost between $3.5 million and $4.5 million, according to County Manager John Maltbie. Without a dedicated revenue stream other than the county’s general fund, the department has been left to absorb rising costs by cutting services and staff and holding off on upkeep.

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday will discuss its parks strategic plan and how a piece of the $60 million in annual sales tax revenue approved by voters in November can be used to implement a wish list of seven additional positions, major maintenance and capital projects. The discussion is part of the board’s overall process to allocate the Measure A funds which has been broken into multiple pieces over the span of several meetings the next few months. Final approval won’t be given until after all the presentations have been made but Tuesday’s consideration is a major step.

The recommendation calls for $1,766,208 in Measure A funds in fiscal year 2013-14 for seven new positions, associated operations costs and the “highest priority” maintenance work. The next fiscal year’s budget recommendations will be based on the parks operations plan prepared by the yet-to-be named parks department director. The board is also asking for up to $3.5 million for capital projects. Altogether, Maltbie’s proposal calls for $5,266,208.

A significant piece of the plan is extricating parks operations from Public Works which absorbed it in 2011 as a cost-saving measure when former parks director Dave Holland moved to an assistant county manager position. The plan calls for reestablishing parks as its own agency with a director and executive secretary.

Supervisor Adrienne Tissier backs the idea of splitting the two functions.

“Parks is very different from Public Works and ends up feeling very bureaucratic when it needs to be more flexible and mobile,” she said.

She doesn’t second-guess the earlier budget move but said as time progressed it became apparent that the merge didn’t appear to be a good fit.

Fellow Supervisor Carole Groom agreed that while Public Works Director Jim Porter has done “a yeoman’s job” with parks, the function really needs its own director.

The parks plan also calls for two rangers and a natural resource manager to support operations improvements and maintenance work and two rangers for the new Devil’s Slide park that will replace the former road with trails for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Staffing and maintaining the new Devil’s Slide park should be at the bottom of the priority list below issues like deferred maintenance but it must be done for the safety of those using it, Tissier said.

The overall goal of Measure A funds is not to replace everything that has been cut in the past but, using the strategic plan a as a guide, evaluate the options, Groom said.

She also wants to discuss passive versus active parks, such as those with only trails and open space compared to those with campsites and other interactive components, because each have different needs, she said.

“This is a very good first start,” Groom said.

The Board of Supervisors meets 9 a.m. Tuesday, April 23 in Board Chambers, 400 County Government Center, Redwood City.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102.


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