According to San Joaquin County staff, the need to draw monies from its parks trust funds has declined over the last few years, and plans are being made to further reduce reliance on those sources.

“We’ve done significant changes in the last three years to not rely on those funds,” county general services director Marcia Cunningham said during budget hearings with the Board of Supervisors last week.

“In Fiscal Year 2016-17, we used more than $1 million,” she said. “Today, we’ve only used $348,000.”

Cunningham’s comments come after the San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury released a report in June that found more than $11 million was taken from Parks and Recreation trust funds over the course of a decade to supplement the department’s general budget.

According to the report, the balance of all of the trust funds was nearly $5.5 million at the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year, and there would be less than $50,000 remaining by the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Last week, county staff said it has developed several revenue enhancements for the 2019-20 fiscal year that will reduce reliance on the trust funds, including the implementation of a marketing plan to increase the visibility of park amenities; exploring partnerships with organizations to increase funding for park enhancement projects; and researching outside grant opportunities and outdoor advertising methods.

Cunningman said last week’s presentation was prepared prior to the June 11 grand jury report.

The grand jury began an investigation after a citizen complained that the principal in some of the 10 trust funds was being used for park maintenance and operation, which was inconsistent with their intended use.

During its investigation, the grand jury received additional complaints from citizens alleging inadequate staffing and funding at Micke Grove Zoo.

The grand jury found the zoo suffered from a loss of accreditation in 2006, a lack of a policies and procedures manual, a lack of a master plan and vision, as well as a lack of secured funding sources dedicated to its improvement.

The Micke Grove Zoological Society, established in 1978, has been the primary source for funding the zoo, but fundraising revenues have decreases over the last decade, the grand jury said.

In 2010, the MGZS received more than $17,000 in membership dues, and raised more than $15,000 in funds to operate the zoo. In 2016, it received nearly $34,000 in membership dues and just $8,240 in funds were raised, according to the report.

The grand jury suggested MGZS could collaborate with the San Joaquin Historical Society to improve raising funds in the future, as the latter organization was able to raise more than $63,000 in funds for its programs in 2016 after receiving nearly $87,000 in membership dues. The Historical Society was also able to secure nearly $350,000 in grants that year, while the MGZS had secured none.

The grand jury has recommended the county develop a vision and master plan for the zoo, identify and secure multiple funding sources for the zoo, and determine the role and responsibility of the MGZS by the summer of 2020.

“I think this fiscal year, hopefully we’ll make a decision with regard to what we can do that will make our parks more revenue-generating, and certainly provide for activities to attract more visitors,” Supervisor Chuck Winn said last week.

Cunningham told supervisors last week that she will provide an official statement regarding the grand jury’s report at a future meeting within the 90-day response period.

The board’s next meetings are scheduled for July 9 and 23, Aug. 13 and 27, and Sept. 10.

The complete grand jury report can be seen online at /y6ecrrhz.

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