A large portion of media attention paid to the California budget discussion has focused on Governor Brown's proposal to close 70 state parks. While we agree with the Governor that spending could be cut from the Department of Parks and Recreation in order to close the deficit, we disagree about the targets for these cuts.
To get a grasp of the proposed cuts of $22 million, consider that there are approximately 80 million visitors to the public park system each year. Therefore, it would require a charge of just over a single quarter per visitor in order to make up for this decrease in funding. Alternatively, wasteful spending could be eliminated. In neither case is it necessary to close public parks.
Note that the California Department of Parks and Recreation spent over $160 million on employee compensation last year, including $8.5 million on lifeguards alone. There are also the following examples of excessive administrative spending that indicate park closings are unnecessary:
- 26 out of 148 park superintendents receive more than $100 thousand in pay. Another 10 employees receive over $100 thousand for administrative duties. Additionally, there is a surgeon on the department’s payroll receiving $112 thousand despite the fact that there seems to be no need for public parks to hire a full-time doctor as part of the staff.
- The department spends $38 million on administrator and accountant salaries. This includes over $4 million for office assistants and typists and upwards of $2 million for communications operators and supervisors. This does not include $150 thousand used to hire full-time photographers or $500 thousand to employ full-time graphic and exhibit designers.
- By comparison, less than a third of employees are park guides and rangers or museum curators. This means that only one fourth of employee compensation is spent on those employees directly operating the parks.
Lifeguards Paid as Peace Officers
Also note that more than 30 lifeguards receive compensation exceeding $50 thousand because they are considered ‘peace officers’. Replacing all peace officer classified lifeguards with normal lifeguards who typically earn $25 thousand or less would save the Department of Parks and Recreation nearly $1 million each year.
In light of these findings, it seems possible to save at least $22 million without actually closing any parks. Instead, the department of parks and recreation could assess park entry fees, trim fragmented administration, and reevaluate lifeguard salaries.
This approach of streamlining operations can reduce Department of Parks and Recreation spending, make government more effective and efficient, and keep parks open for public use.