Municipal park and recreation departments and special districts in California seem always to be in dire need of funding. This is in large part due to the restrictions of Proposition 13, and often a by-product of the focus on public safety services. However, it is possible to tune up your fiscal tools and get good results, and potentially create new funding opportunities, too. It takes focus and initiative.

In a nutshell, it is an imperative to go through this five-step “checklist” when thinking about revenues, which should be done regularly!

  1. Update cost allocation plans: It doesn’t sound sexy, but it is the foundation for planning, budgeting, cost recovery, and setting fees.
  2. Update all fees, and implement relevant new ones (and adopt a Master Fee Schedule): How many dollars is your district or department “leaving on the table” each and every year? How much awareness do staff and elected officials share about the total and true cost of providing services? This can be significant, due to not tuning up your fee schedule, and instituting new fees as need be. Adopt a Master Fee Schedule to ensure your fees are not lost somewhere out there, and thus never updated.
  3. Consider general and special taxes such as Utility Users Tax, Transient Occupancy Tax, Sales Tax, etc.: A wide range of public services and facilities are eligible, if the community sees the need and will approve the tax.
  4. Consider Special Financing Districts, such as parcel taxes, Benefit Assessment Districts, and Community Facilities Districts (CFD): These tools have long been a part of funding and financing park and rec services and infrastructure.
  5. Understand your fiscal and development impacts: Negotiate better agreements for developments. Create new and update existing Development Impact Fees and Quimby Act Fees as the landscape changes and needs arise.

To illustrate what can be done after following these five steps, here are just a few varied stories from the park, recreation and open space arena:

East Bay Regional Parks District: This park district has a robust and proactive fiscal toolbox, with Special Financing Districts including Benefit Assessments and CFDs, as well as various tuned-up fees and well-crafted development agreements.

City of Novato: A CFD was crafted to purchase land in south Novato, which was dedicated as permanent open space for the benefit of the local community. The CFD had overwhelming support, with a 95% yes vote on the measure.

Placer Valley Sports Complex: This large sports complex was financed with a Tourism Business Improvement District, or TBID. The assessment was approved on all lodging businesses in the Roseville, Rocklin and Lincoln areas, and it finances low interest rate bonds.

Development Impact and Quimby Fees: Many communities across California utilize these fees to obtain parkland and install infrastructure.

For additional information, please refer to these four publications:

  • League of California Cities’ California Municipal Revenue Sources Handbook
  • California Special Districts Association/CSDA’s Introduction to Special District Revenues – A primer on the revenue tools available in California (published Fall 2019)
  • NBS’ Special Financing Districts Primer
  • NBS’ Rates, Fees and Charges – A Compendium

When will you embark on the five-step checklist?