Above: park signs used by our two park authorities
What is a Park Authority? An Introduction
“Authority: a person or body of persons in whom authority is vested, as a governmental agency” – Collins English Dictionary online
“Public authorities are agencies created by governments to engage directly in the economy for public purposes” – Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History
“Authorities borrow from both municipal corporation law (that is, the laws responsible for the creation of cities, towns, and other forms of local government) and private corporations law” – Wikipedia
We in Fairfax have two park authorities: our county park system, managed by the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA); and the multi-jurisdiction Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA), also known as NOVA Parks.
An authority is like a piece of government that has been split off. The FCPA’s Annual Report refers to itself as ‘a component unit of the County of Fairfax.’ The FCPA looks like a county agency, its employees are county employees and it follows most if not all administrative practices of the county government. It is, however, like a public corporation. The FCPA Executive Director does not report to the Fairfax County Executive, but rather to the FCPA Board, who has hired him or her. FCPA Board members are appointed by the county Board of Supervisors (BOS) – one by each district supervisor, 3 at-large by the Chair of the BOS. The FCPA’s budget pie chart has 5 slices, and the FCPA Board has direct oversight of 2 of those slices.
The Virginia Legislature authorized the creation of park authorities by localities in 1950. You can find the language in The Virginia Code, in the section called “Counties, Cities, and Towns,” direct link: https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title15.2/chapter57/. The same year, our county park authority was formed using the instruments of a county ordinance and a memorandum of understanding between the BOS and our new Authority.
The NVRPA was founded in 1959 by Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington Counties, together with the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church, and Fairfax. The NVRPA receives its government funding as contributions from member jurisdictions, based on population; and usually receives a slice of park bonds (f the $107 million bond referendum for parks in 2016, $94.7 million went to the FCPA, $12.3 million to NVRPA) . It is governed by a board of directors each appointed by his/her member government.
Is a Park Authority typical in Virginia? It takes a bit of hunting to find out, as Virginia does not have a central office or point of contact for its authorities. It turns out that our two are about the only ones in the state. Virginia’s next largest jurisdictions: Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Richmond have regular parks and recreation departments. Next-door Prince William County had a Park Authority that was founded in 1977; it dissolved in 2012 and turned over operations to the county.
You may know that authorities can borrow money by selling revenue bonds, to fund for construction and maintenance. The debt is repaid from the authority’s revenue such as that from admission fees. The Park Bonds we vote on, however, are “general obligation” bonds. The debt is repaid out of the county’s budget; think of this as a second public fund for the two park authorities.
Last, we note that we have another county recreation agency, the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services. Its focus is strong on social service, but it offer lots of recreation — see their community center calendars , and operates community centers which have sports courts and other sports facilities. NCS also schedules the use of the Park Authority sports fields.
These 3 major park & recreation agencies operate independently.
In our Reference section, we have compiled a list of all park agencies operating in and near Fairfax County.
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