Audit: state parks used "outdated" budget methods

6:12 PM, Feb 14, 2013   |    comments
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The final official investigation into state parks, and the attempt to keep quiet about millions of extra dollars, suggests the department's budget writing staff didn't know enough about what it actually took to run the parks.

"The department used outdated and incomplete cost estimates for its parks," says the report issued by state Auditor Elaine Howle on Thursday.  "Therefore, any factors involving these cost estimates that the department considered in selecting parks for closure were not accurate."

That's a fairly damning blow as to whether parks officials even knew whether their plan to close facilities and save money would even pencil out.

The state audit also weighs in on the long-running saga of just how long money was squirreled away in parks accounts.  Auditors say that documents show questions were raised as far back as 1999, though at least one investigation suggests the origins of the money could go back even further.

"High-level management of the department directed the department's current budget officer to continue underreporting to [the California Department of] Finance the fund balance for the parks fund," says the audit.

But auditors also rap gubernatorial budget staffers on the knuckles for part of the hidden money saga: the vast discrepancies in the off-highway vehicle fund maintained by state parks.  Gov. Jerry Brown's budget staff, says the audit, made its own decisions about the balance in that fund in 2012 that seemed to have thrown previous year's accounting out of whack.

"This reduction" by Brown's staff, says the audit, "contributed to the department's ending fund balance for the off-highway vehicle fund in the governor's budget being understated by more than $33 million."

Current parks officials say they are committed to completely revamp the department's budget procedures, both to encourage transparency and to engage in "zero-based budgeting" -- building spending plans from the ground up so every dollar is accounted for.


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