A familiar tale

Couldn’t the Prince William County Park Authority find a $10,000 hammer or toilet seat to purchase in its construction of C. Lacy Compton Park in Woodbridge? With park construction already $90,000 over budget, it seems they could have risen to the occasion and found a way to make the overrun an even $100,000.

So goes the pattern of behavior that is slowly driving the park authority toward ruin. This time, the authority managed to turn a $580,000 gift into a $90,000 shortfall. Hopefully, the park will only be $90,000 over budget when it opens next month.

With the Board of County Supervisors growing weary of this dog and pony show, parks officials are trying to divert money from other sources in order to scrape together enough money to finish the new park which will serve neighborhoods near the Cherry Hill Peninsula.

The park authority took on the project when Woodbridge attorney Lacy Compton Jr. donated $580,000 for the construction of a park on the Cherry Hill Peninsula. The money was left over from a development firm that was to build near Cockpit Point 40 years ago. The area was never developed and Compton donated the remaining money for the construction of the park in memory of his father, a former district court judge.

The park authority knew how much money was donated and should have planned accordingly. The original donation was made for the purchase of land and the development of a general park with $49,000 earmarked for in-line skating facilities.

With the park nearly $100,000 over budget, money to make up the difference will be diverted from the Beaver Creek fund which was created through the sale of park authority property. Additional money will come from individual district funds of a park authority board member. In truth, however, that money is gone forever and sooner or later the park authority will write a check it can’t cash.

It’s safe to say that word has gotten out among contractors that doing business with the park authority is a guaranteed sweet deal. This will continue to be the case until the authority earns a reputation of exerting competent fiscal oversight.

Normally the Board of County Supervisors could help out with a $90,000 overrun, but that well has run dry especially considering the authority’s recent $2.4 million overrun on Valley View Park in Nokesville.

One reason the park authority exceeds its budget is because construction plans are often changed to satisfy what they perceive as “the public’s needs.” It’s good to address public needs but those needs must be prioritized with what is responsible. Building a smaller park within budget may not satisfy all of the public’s needs but it would certainly solidify public confidence in the park authority.

Confidence in the park authority, however, may not be realized until it is reformed. And this reform should proceed from the top, down.

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