Tuesday’s meeting of the Napa County Regional Parks and Open Space District with the Board of Supervisors mixed elation at past success with the disappointing news that the sale of Skyline Park had hit a snag, and a look at the district’s financial future.
The meeting kicked off with Barbara and Warren Winiarski presenting the parks district with a check for $50,000, matching the more than $50,000 the district raised to take over management of the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park and the Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park.
Myrna Abramowicz, a member of the district’s board of directors, said the district challenged itself to raise $100,000 by April 1 to save the parks, which were slated for closure due to state budget cuts.
“This is pretty exciting for us,” Abramowicz said. “We only had two months to raise $100,000, and we did it.”
That effort was helped greatly by the donation from the Winiarskis. Warren Winiarski, who founded Stags Leap Wine Cellars, said he was motivated to help the parks district so the public can enjoy the Napa Valley’s natural environment.
“We wanted to help the folks who did so much,” Warren Winiarski said. “The goal was so laudable and meritorious. The Ag Preserve is the industry of this valley. Parks and open space are a part of that.”
The audience applauded as the Winiarskis handed over an oversized check to Tony Norris, another member of the parks district’s board of directors. Bernhard Krevet, president of the Friends of the Napa River, also provided the district a $2,000 check.
This moment of elation faded when Supervisor Keith Caldwell said that the state had rescinded an offer to allow the county to purchase Skyline Wilderness Park on East Imola Avenue under its current appraisal. The appraised amount has not been made public.
Caldwell said the county would continue to negotiate the sale. Meanwhile, the state will continue to lease the land to the county for at least another 18 years.
Harold Kelly, a member of the parks district’s board of directors, said the news was disappointing, but could give the district more time to focus on other projects, such as managing the two state parks.
“Maybe it will give us a little breather,” Kelly said. “Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.”
The parks district is funded out of the county’s special projects fund, which doles out revenue from the hotel transient occupancy tax.
Since voters approved the district in a countywide election in 2006, it’s operated on about $600,000 in annual grants from the county. The district has been able to leverage those local dollars into $14.3 million in grants, donations and donated land value, an almost 5-to-1 ratio.
The district fears that the flow of grant money could dry up, bringing the ratio down to 1-to-1. Further, given its operational commitments, the parks district estimates it will have only $125,000 to leverage into new grants.
The district expects to have 10 parks, trails and campgrounds fully or partially open to the public within two years, but finishing every project will cost an estimated $12 million in additional funding, according to the district’s master plan.
If the district received grants at its current rate, it would need a decade to finish that work, officials said. But if it were to pay for that work on a ratio of $1 local dollar per $1 dollar of grant money, it would need more than 100 years to complete current projects.
The county’s commitment of special projects money to the parks district was set to end in 2014, but the supervisors pledged to extend it for another five years beyond then, with an opportunity for additional renewal after that.
Given that revenue from the transient occupancy tax is projected to increase, the district could expect to receive as much as $700,000 annually from the county.
Kelly said that will give the district a chance to demonstrate the fruits of its labor to the public before asking for a permanent source of money, potentially from a sales tax or a property assessment.
“Until we do that, the public doesn’t really know that we’ve done anything,” Kelly said. “I don’t think the problem is solved until we have a more permanent source of funding. That’s going to be up to the public. I think we’ll do fine.”