Park Pinch

County Parks staffing is so thin that rangers are unable to maintain trails at Toro Park, much less crack down on illegal side trails.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Monterey County Parks Department, and its future could hardly be less certain.

At a June 2 County Board of Supervisors meeting, retiring Parks Director Mark Mariscal pleaded for an extra $850,000 for 2016-17, saying it was necessary to prevent layoffs in the department, which is already understaffed, and allow operations at Lake San Antonio to limp into another year.

The board heard Mariscal’s plea, and budgeted what he asked for. Nonetheless, the department is now fully staffed with just 36 employees, compared to 64 in 2012.

“We’re band-aiding our way through this thing that needs major surgery,” Supervisor Dave Potter said at the June 2 meeting, lamenting the “revolving door” of leadership at county parks. “It’s difficult to recruit somebody who’s got the tenacity and staying capabilities to go ahead and see this through, because it does need major restructuring.”

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The ongoing drought has had a major impact on the parks department’s bottom line, which relies on recreation fees at the county’s two reservoirs, both of which remain low despite above-average rainfall this past winter. Going forward, Nick Chiulos, the county’s assistant chief administrative officer, says county staff are looking hard at how to make parks sustainable. Among the strategies being discussed are ways to increase revenues at the lakes­ – whether they have water or not – and maybe even folding parks into another county department.

“That might create more operational efficiency,” Chiulos says.

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