The Prince William Board of County Supervisors will have final say over what park projects can be built under terms of a new agreement with the county's semi-autonomous Park Authority.
The authority also is required to follow the same strict financial guidelines as other county agencies, establish a reserve fund, provide a quarterly status report to the county board and revisit the arrangement every two years. In addition, the agreement calls for transferring the Brentsville Courthouse and jail complex and the Ben Lomond Manor House to the county.
The Park Authority board unanimously agreed to the revision of their operating agreement last week and the county board is expected to approve it Tuesday.
"Obviously, I've had my concerns with the Park Authority and do believe that the best course would be for us to bring it back into the county," said supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R-At Large), who recommended that the county assume total control of the agency earlier this year. "However, since there doesn't appear to be sufficient support to do that, this is next best thing. This will give us, essentially, control over their finances and limit their ability to transfer money among projects."
Prince William established the authority in 1977 as an independent agency with the right to sell bonds with county approval. The authority operates 71 facilities and draws about $11 million of its approximately $20 million annual budget from the county. The rest comes from user fees and grants. Until now, the authority has had total spending control.
The revised agreement follows almost two years of acrimony. The primary problems revolved around Valley View Park, which is behind schedule and millions over budget.
In 2001, park officials received permission from the board to take out a $1.3 million loan to finish Valley View. But that proved to be not near enough, and a year later Park Authority officials put several other projects on hold and shifted an additional $1 million to finish Valley View.
Other projects and decisions have also come under question. Last spring, it was reported that Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III (R-Gainesville), a manager at a grading and excavation company, was dumping dirt onto county-owned parkland without permission from the Park Authority. Park officials also appointed one of their own board members, R.B. Thomas, to manage park construction, and they later acknowledged that they had little or no control over what was going on at the site.
Thomas, a softball tournament organizer, also has been questioned about pushing the championship-level softball fields being built at two parks.
An independent audit of the authority done last year concluded that the agency is riddled with mismanagement and that many workers are unqualified to handle the large-scale projects the agency has undertaken in recent years.
Peggy Thompson, Park Authority executive director, announced last month that she will retire at the end of April, citing the problems as a factor in her decision.
Park spokeswoman Beth Robertson said the agency is pleased with the new agreement.
"This is ideal," she said. "This is a really good change for the Park Authority. It gives us a better relationship with the county."
The park board also voted last week to have 17-year employee Debbie Andrew serve as acting executive director.