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Establishing the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund

PARTF celebrates 25 years in 2019
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Establishing the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund

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 beaches. The Parks and Recreation Authority, a nine-member appointed board, was created to allocate funds from PARTF to the Division of Parks and Recreation and to the grants program for local governments.

The Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) is a method of financing parks and recreation projects on the local and state level that has a proven track record — and solid public support — in North Carolina. At the beginning, however, 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 the referendums on 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 percent "yes" vote). A concerted statewide effort began 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 in 1994 with Senate Bill 733. It was supported by then-Gov. Jim Hunt and passed the Senate in 1992 and 1993. There was opposition in the N.C. 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 parkland and facilities.

Similar models had been used in other states. The most successful was a dedicated fund in Florida supported by an excise tax.

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

The group of supporters hosted a legislative reception and lobby day to promote Senate Bill 733, with almost 200 people attending. In addition, the effort gained momentum when Rep. 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 bipartisan 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 created to allocate funds from PARTF

In 1991, the 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.

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 temp, and the House speaker.

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

  • 65 percent for the state parks system for capital projects, repairs, and renovation of facilities, and to acquire land;
  • 30 percent to provide grants to local governments on a dollar-for-dollar basis to create or improve parks and recreational projects;
  • 5 percent for the Coastal and Estuarine Water Beach Access Program;
  • No more than 3 percent may be used by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (now the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources) for the operating expenses associated with managing capital improvements projects, acquiring land, and administering the grants program for local governments

 

1996 to 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 were appointed and held their first meeting in October of 1996.

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

The first Parks and Recreation Trust Fund Annual Report was submitted to the governor and the general assembly, listing the projects funded 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 three-year span when all of PARTF came together. These lessons include:

  • Public support for state parks can be surprisingly strong. Support for legislative initiatives can come from some unexpected places, particularly in our state, where tourism and outdoor recreation have a major economic impact.
  • Although it took time to get it right, there have been no substantive changes to the original legislation since 1994, indicating that the fund is functioning well.
  • Local governments, as well as conservation organizations, must be partners — and supporters. This garners grassroots involvement across the state.
  • 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.