Trouble at the park |

Trouble at the park

Penn Valley’s Western Gateway Park is endangered by financial problems and its board has not followed proper government procedures, Nevada County Supervisor Hank Weston said Monday.

A meeting will be held Friday to address the issues involving the popular 82-acre park.

“They have personnel issues, poor bookkeeping practices, the lawn’s dying, and it just goes on and on,” said Weston, who represents the Penn Valley and San Juan Ridge areas.

Weston said he has tried for eight months to get the park district board to follow proper personnel and financial procedures, to no avail.

“They have no attorney of record, no personnel procedures, no audit procedures, and they have a fiduciary responsibility” to taxpayers, Weston said.

Park officials said the problems are being worked on and will be the topic of the special meeting Friday, which was organized by Weston.

“The county owns the land and could cancel the lease and close the gates, but who gets hurt? The public,” Weston said. “It’s a gem. We can’t do that. The next best thing is to get them on the right track.”

The supervisor said he has helped put together a team of people from county government to advise the board at Friday’s meeting. Some departments will provide financial and personnel expertise to park officials at the meeting, according to Weston and board Chairman Bill Howland.

“There’s been a problem with continuity on the board itself,” Howland said, observing that he and recently resigned Chairman Gerry Garcia were appointed only one year ago.

“The board has gone through huge transitions over the years,” he said. “Some of it is stress ” having to deal with community pressure, and we all have our different opinions.

Some people have suggested closing the park for two days per week, Howland said. But he added, “How do you do that? We haven’t decided to do anything yet except focus.”

Garcia said he left the board in mid-July after members would not act on a personnel matter, and district financial discussions came up in a closed-to-the-public executive session that he felt was inappropriate under the state open meetings law.

“The board was not acting in the best interest of the public anymore, and I can’t be a part of it,” Garcia said.

Howland, Jim Morgan and Pat Riley now sit on the five-member board, which also lost member Michael Green about a month ago when his job precluded him from attending meetings.

Though there has been disagreement about how some matters are handled in the board room, there is no disagreement that the park district needs money.

The operational budget is only $140,000 per year gathered from fees and property taxes, which is barely enough to keep the park open, said business manager Mary Lee Allen.

“We stay within the $140,000, because we have no way of dealing with over-expenditures,” Allen said. “It’s amazing we can keep the doors open with the amount of money we have, and it’s frustrating because a lot of deferred maintenance needs to get done.”

Raising property taxes or fees is not a politically astute answer to the problem during tough economic times, Allen said.

“It would cost a lot of money just to get on the ballot,” Allen said of a proposed tax increase.

Contributions and fundraising are about the only other alternatives, Allen said, adding she was encouraged when a partial mailer to district residents netted $8,000. Other ideas include concerts, open mike nights, flea markets and large softball tournaments, Allen said.

“The park is running on a 50 percent volunteer effort,” Allen said. Senior softball and Little League players take care of the fields, disc golfers police their area, and dog park people do the same, she said.

“We have no budget for significant salaries, but we have support from the community,” Howland said.

More than two decades ago, Valerie Lashbaugh was on the park board and now wants to be appointed to fill one of the vacancies. Her appointment was on a recent meeting agenda but removed after board members realized the vacancy had not been publicly posted, according to Allen and Garcia.

“The park is worth saving,” said Lashbaugh, who also wants to develop a Web site and electronic calendar for the facility. The park board candidate also has some fundraising ideas, she said.

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail or call 477-4237.

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