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Parks and Recreation Trust Fund

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Parks and Recreation Trust Fund

The Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) provides dollar-for-dollar matching grants to local governments for parks and recreational projects to serve the public. 

PARTF is the primary source of funding to build and renovate facilities in the state parks as well as to buy land for new and existing parks.

A portion of PARTF is the primary funding source for the Public Beach and Coastal Waterfront Access Program. The program, administered by the Division of Coastal Management (DCM), offers matching grants to local governments throughout North Carolina's twenty coastal counties. To learn more about this program, go to the Division of Coastal Management website.

The North Carolina General Assembly established the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) on July 16, 1994 to fund improvements in the state's park system, to fund grants for local governments and to increase the public's access to the state's beaches. The Parks and Recreation Authority, a nine-member appointed board, was also created to allocate funds from PARTF to the state parks and to the grants program for local governments.

Establishing the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust

The Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) is a method of financing parks and recreation that now has a proven track record—and solid public support—in North Carolina; but, obviously at the beginning, it took some convincing…

1993 - Growing Momentum: Passage of the State Park Bond Referendum

A legislative study commission reviews the status of the state parks system in North Carolina and makes recommendations to increase funding to address needs that have been identified.

A first-ever bond referendum for parks was somewhat of a last-minute add-on to referendums capital improvement for the UNC university system, community colleges and water/sewer. Senator J.K. Sherron, a co-chair of the legislative study commission helped add funding for parks to the referendum. Supporters had little time to prepare and almost no money to put toward public education.

But at the ballot box, it outperformed the other initiatives (56% “yes” vote). A concerted statewide effort to build public support that included park advisory committee members from individual state parks and a wide range of conservation interests. The bond referendum provided $35 million to purchase land and build visitor facilities in the state parks system.

1994 - Parks and Recreation Trust Fund created

Riding that wave of public support, the idea of a dedicated trust fund gained new momentum with Senate Bill 733 in 1994. It was supported by then-governor Jim Hunt and had passed the Senate in 1992 and 1993 as well.

Similar models had been used in other states. The most successful was a dedicated fund in Florida supported by an excise tax. There was opposition in the NC House of Representatives, primarily on a philosophical basis. Opponents felt it wrong to use a dedicated funding source to sidestep the appropriations process for state parks land and facilities.

Supporters of the trust fund came from across the ideological spectrum: NC Citizens for Business and Industry, the Conservation Council, the NC Homebuilders Association, The Nature Conservancy, the Association of County Commissioners, the League of Municipalities, the Sierra Club and the NC Recreation and Parks Society.

The group of supporters hosted a legislative reception and lobby day promote Senate Bill 733 with almost 200 people attending. In addition, the effort gained momentum when Representative Lyons Gray sponsored and supported the bill's passage in the House.

A version of the bill without the dedicated funding source was signed into law in 1994 with bi-partisan support. It created the fund, but allocated $1 million to be shared by state and local parks in the first year, Fiscal Year 1995.

It stated the legislature's “intention” to dedicate 75 percent of the deed tax to the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) in the next legislative session (with the remaining 25 percent to be dedicated to the older Natural Heritage Trust Fund).

1995 - Dedicated Funding Source established and the Parks and Recreation Authority was created to allocate funds from PARTF

In 1991, General Assembly doubled the excise tax on real estate transfers from $1 to $2 per $1,000 valuation to cover a budget shortfall. The additional revenue was allocated to the state of North Carolina. Beginning in 1996, 75 percent of the new revenue was dedicated to PARTF.

The Parks and Recreation Authority was established to distribute the revenues that would begin to flow in 1996. The board consists of nine members appointed by the governor, the Senate president pro tem and the House speaker.

The money from the Parks and Recreation Trust is to be allocated as follows:

  • Sixty-five percent (65%) for the State Parks System for capital projects, repairs and renovations of facilities and to acquire land.
  • Thirty percent (30%) to provide grants to local governments on a dollar-for-dollar basis to create or improve parks and recreational projects.
  • Five percent (5%) for the Coastal and Estuarine Water Beach Access Program.
  • No more than three percent (3%) may be used by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for the operating expenses associated with managing capital improvements projects, acquiring land, and administering the grants program for local governments.

1996 - 1997 Parks and Recreation Authority and Dedicated Funding source begins

On July 1, 1996, revenue from the excise tax on real estate transfers began to be deposited in the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.

The charter members of the Parks and Recreation Authority are appointed and hold their first meeting in October, 1996.

The first local grant recipients were selected by the Authority members in May and July, 1997.

The first Parks and Recreation Trust Fund Annual Report was submitted to the Governor and General Assembly listing the projects approved by the Parks and Recreation Authority using PARTF revenues. The report is due each year in October.

Lessons Learned

Everyone involved learned a lot during that 3-year span when all of this came together. Some of those lessons:

  • That public support for state parks can be surprisingly strong. And, support for legislative initiatives can come from some surprising quarters, particularly in a state where tourism and outdoor recreation have such an economic impact.
  • Although it may take more than one or even two legislative sessions to get it right, there have been no substantive changes to the original legislation in the past 11 years.
  • That local governments as well as state park conservation support groups must be partners—and benefactors—in the effort. Both need a dependable funding method as well. Not only does this garner support at the grassroots level across the state, but it's the right thing to do.
  • The trust fund's tide has raised all boats. The partnership with local governments has produced other joint initiatives involving conservation lands, trails and programs.

Benefits Beyond Money

The citizens of North Carolina and their visitors have certainly enjoyed new amenities made possible by the PARTF program. There are important benefits they don't see:

  • The PARTF program improves the opportunity to plan for future growth— long-term initiatives for both land acquisition and capital projects.
  • The Division's New Parks for a New Century initiative was launched in 2001 with a team examining every known site within NC and scoring them on criteria involving natural resource value, suitability for park development and proximity to population centers.
  • More than 40 sites were selected as having potential as state parks or state natural areas. Four are being developed as state parks (including Chimney Rock in the Hickory Nut Gorge) and there are four new state natural areas.
  • Simply put, the trust fund gives the state park system the ability to plan on a grander scale for the longer term.
  • Communities have benefited by the planning for local park projects that is encouraged by the scoring system used to evaluate PARTF grant applications. Local governments with better plans and public involvement have received more grants.
  • The Parks and Recreation Authority has consistently awarded grants to the best local park projects while distributing them to more than 350 local governments, small and large, in all of North Carolina's 100 counties.
  • The trust fund allows the Division of Parks and Recreation to build important and long-lasting partnerships.
  • The Clean Water Management Trust Fund was established in the early 1990s for protection of water quality through clean water initiatives, easements and land acquisition along riparian areas, etc.
  • Many of our most important land acquisition projects have involved support from all three of the state's conservation trust funds.
  • Using these funds in different combinations has given the state great flexibility for a broad strategic conservation plan. And, it has allows the state to act more quickly to take advantage of conservation opportunities.
  • The trust fund has allowed state parks to build trust and a close working relationship with national and regional land trusts and, in some cases, with local governments.
  • Nonprofit land conservancies are better able to act as brokers and to take advantage of conservation opportunities knowing that the three trust funds can act together to support them.

    Example: The Nature Conservancy and Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy sealed a $16 million deal within weeks for land of extremely high natural resource value next to Chimney Rock Park. The property unexpectedly came on the market—and the land trusts had confidence the state could honor a pledge to re-purchase the property. Advance planning had already determined it very valuable for the new state park.