Study: Privatize SOME State Parks

[Source: Ginger Rough, The Arizona Republic]

Non-profit’s report suggests streamlining, reorganization

A new study (.pdf) concludes that Arizona’s state-parks system could operate more efficiently if the private sector took over part of its operations and if a quasi-public agency managed it.

However, the report, commissioned by the non-profit Arizona State Parks Foundation, says it is not feasible to privatize the entire system, in part because some state parks, such as Lake Havasu and Lost Dutchman, are operated via leases with the federal government’s Bureau of Land Management.

“You can’t privatize what you don’t own,” said Cristie Statler, the foundation’s executive director. The group does fundraising for the state-parks system.

Among other things, the study also suggests that the state continue to reduce park operating hours, including keeping some parks open only during certain seasons. It also says it would be more efficient to have regional teams manage several park sites.

Consultants looked at all but two or three of the state’s 30 parks before making their recommendations.

Arizona officials, grappling with an ongoing budget crisis, have been looking for ways to privatize services and improve government efficiency. An 11-member commission appointed by Gov. Jan Brewer issued broad preliminary ideas on how to do that in September, but has missed a year-end deadline to unveil long-term, specific proposals.

Budget cuts had threatened to close more than a dozen parks last year, but officials worked to get financial commitments from counties and community groups to keep several of them open. Currently only three of the state’s 30 parks and recreation areas are closed.

It’s not clear what will come of the recommendations in the report, which was written by PROS Consulting of Indianapolis and cost $35,000. It was vetted by current or former parks directors at six out-of-state agencies that have privatized some of their services, Statler said.

Renee Bahl, executive director of the Arizona Parks Board, said creating a quasi-public authority was an “idea worth exploring,” but the most important thing was ensuring that the parks system is a self-sufficient agency that brings money into the state.

The foundation has approached the Governor’s Office about the findings, and is “interested in working” with Brewer’s Commission on Privatization and Efficiency, Statler said.


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