County told it won’t get parks report

For several years, county leaders have wanted their parks officials to take a closer look at county parks and their impact.

The Parks and Recreation Commission has told the Board of Supervisors that it hasn’t begun that analysis, and if supervisors want it, they must come up with $200,000.

There is simply no money to conduct the so-called “needs analysis,” parks officials told the board last week. They said efforts to get grants have failed because of the intense competition.

The sober remarks are part of what is becoming a recession-era pattern of government agencies telling local elected officials all the things they cannot do because they’re short of funds.

This week, for example, animal shelter officials said they cannot afford to hire a volunteer coordinator or workers to replace the free labor supplied by Honor Farm trustees.

Last week, the regional San Luis Obispo Council of Governments projected a $3 billion shortfall in needed funds over the next 25 years.

Health, mental health, social service and community college officials are likely to join this chorus as they pore over the details of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget.

Getting a handle on parks is no small matter in a county where outdoor recreation is not only important as a health and environmental issue, but also as a source of income — tourism is one of the county’s top revenue generators.

The county owns or operates more than three dozen facilities, encompassing thousands of acres.

They range from the larger Lopez Lake and Santa Margarita Lake areas to smaller parcels such as the 2.5-acre Avila community park.

Some of the county’s inventory is undeveloped because there is no money to develop it or, if developed, to maintain it.

The county parks supplement the several state parks in the area, such as Montaña de Oro and the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

“Needs assessment” is a bureaucratic term that means, broadly speaking, taking a look at what the county has, what it needs, what it can sustain, and what the public says about the parks.

It includes everything from acquisition to maintenance to listing priorities.

Such a study requires a professional consultant, according to Bruce Hilton of the Parks and Recreation Commission.

“You need an expert,” he told The Tribune in an interview, rather than doing it in-house with county employees.

The Parks and Recreation Commission also asked that the Board of Supervisors exempt it from a 5 percent budget cut.

Supervisors told them to incorporate their concerns into their budget proposals later in the spring.

The discussion took place during the commission’s presentation of its annual report.

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