Be careful what you wish for…
That’s the predicament facing members of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors after taking a tighter grip on the financial reins of the struggling Park Authority.
A litany of bad financial decisions has progressed into a river of red ink for the Park Authority which overseas the county’s parks and recreational facilities as a somewhat autonomous organization whose governing board is appointed by the county supervisors.
Overruns on park projects and complaints by supervisors who felt they were kept out of the loop about park authority struggles, prompted Board of Supervisors Chairman Sean Connaughton to press for tougher county oversight last year. Considering half the park authority’s $26.7 million budget was coming from county taxpayers, a growing number of county supervisors were demanding change.
A new operating agreement is in the works giving county supervisors greater financial oversight. The plan was recently approved by the park authority board and it marks the beginning of honest reform within that agency.
But what exactly have county supervisors gotten themselves into?
New guidelines require the park authority to submit quarterly financial reports, contract with the county department of public works while being held to the same financial standards as other county agencies. The county will also gain the authority to supervise construction of a new $10 million stadium for the Potomac Cannons. With greater oversight into stadium construction, we hope the county will put its full expertise (including planning, public works and economic development) into finding a new site for the stadium that’s closer to Interstate 95 or I-66. But that’s another issue altogether.
Grasping greater control over the park authority’s pocketbook was the right move to remedy that organization’s current problems. But it may not be the best long-term strategy. While watching over the park authority, county supervisors should also begin setting a goal for eventually restoring the park authority as a functioning semi-autonomous agency. This may not take place next year or the year after, but a long range goal for turning the reins back over to the park authority should be set.
Perhaps this goal should be set in accordance with the hiring of a new executive director. Considering the tough times ahead, a reform-minded director with no ties to the current local government and park authority bureaucracy should be hired to get things back on track.
While county oversight of the park authority will help in the short term, it should be treated only as a remedy and not a long term solution.