Everybody should have this problem: what to do with $85 million bucks in the bank.
Six times in the past few decades, park-loving Santa Clara County residents voted to keep using a sliver of their property taxes to buy and maintain parkland and open spaces.
Now, a new audit reveals that all those slivers have really added up – and pose a dilemma for the Santa Clara County parks and recreation department: what to do with roughly $85 million in cash – enough to meet its basic expenses for about three years.
The fact that the county department is sitting on such a fat savings account at a time when other county and city departments are bleeding for lack of money came as a surprise to park lovers and open-space advocates.
Three years of expenses in the bank, and we’re getting hit up for $6 to park in the county parks? This story did frost me just a little bit.
This is a common theme throughout our society. I’m starting to think that some basic human nature is at work here. People (politicians, philanthropists, and end-users alike) always seem to want to spend more on new acquisitions and construction than on ongoing operation costs, maintenance costs, and associated salaries.
This is particularly acute in our parks. It’s relatively easy to get money to buy more park land, or to build infrastructure like a visitor center, a museum, or a foot bridge. It’s much harder to find money for a ranger’s salary to protect that acquired land from all kinds of misuse, or to pay for maintenance workers such as janitors, trail crew, plumbers, road repair, and so on.
Question for THD readers: If you were donating money to spend on park land acquisition, park “improvements”, interpretive salaries, law-enforcement salaries, and ongoing maintenance expenses, where would you prioritize?
Steve: those points are well taken, there’s a great emphasis on sizzle rather than steak permeating our society — everybody wants to pay for high-visibility stuff like new visitors centers but nobody wants to pay for invisible stuff like staff to clean the toilets.
At priorities: there has to be some emphasis on acquiring new land just to protect it from development.
Maybe a lot more emphasis needs to go into recruiting volunteers to do a lot of these duties … lots of folks have the urge to help, lots of parks need the help, but who brings them together?