Reform remains elusive

Still reeling from criticism over its pitiful financial condition, the Prince William Park Authority has chosen to place a bandaid over top its money problems rather than initiate true reform. The semiautonomous county agency, which seems to go through cash like grandma at the slots on a free trip to Atlantic City, is in charge of building and operating county parks and other recreational facilities. Constant overruns on park projects and the increased reliance on county tax money has some on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors asking questions about accountability.

The most egregious foul-up occurred with the construction of Valley View Park, which went over budget by $2.4 million. Other projects, including a park using donated funds in Cherry Hill, were also over budget. While no park authority is expected to pull down massive profits, this authority continues to come back to county supervisors each year in search of more cash. Last year it was $10.3 million and this year it was $13.6 million.

With the dust beginning to settle following the Valley View snafu, the Park Authority is poised to hire, rather than fire. Alan Roberts is expected to be hired to oversee the authority’s construction projects. A 19-year veteran with the Prince William County Public Works Department, Roberts no doubt brings skill and expertise to an organization in need of both. But this hire should only be considered the beginning if true reform is the goal. Making the Park Authority a stable organization requires more than a new construction manager. It requires changes further up the change of command.

The Park Authority will appear on the county supervisors’ agenda later this month as the board reviews a performance audit. That may also be the time for the supervisors to begin searching for a way to reform the entire leadership structure.

The reason for the Park Authority to exist in its semiautonomous state is to relieve county supervisors from the task of micro-managing something as cumbersome as maintaining parks. But considering the county’s increasing expenditures needed to prop up the authority, a period of temporary probation may be in order if true reform is not on the agenda. This means strict county oversight for the next two years to insure that projects are carried out within the fiscal capacity of the Park Authority. This would cut down on the frequent “surprises” county supervisors get on an increasing basis.

The Park Authority should at least submit to this increased oversight or risk losing the extra lump sum of taxpayer money it receives annually come budget time.

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