Arizona State Parks Board votes to reinstate Heritage Grants, but legislature’s OK still needed

[Source: Bonnie Bariola, Florence Reminder] — The Heritage Fund was established through voter initiative in 1990.  The approval of this initiative allows up to ten million dollars each year from the Arizona Lottery to be allocated to Arizona State Parks for the following uses.

  • State Parks Acquisition and Development (17%): Up to $1.7 million annually
  • State Parks Natural Areas Acquisition (17%): Up to $1.7 million annually
  • State Parks Natural Areas Operation and Management (4%): Up to $400,00 annually
  • Environmental Education (5%): Up to $500,000 annually
  • Trails (5%): Up to $500,000 annually
  • Local, Regional and State Parks (35%): Up to $3.5 million annually
  • Historic Preservation (17%): Up to $1.7 million annually

In January 2009 due to state budget cuts, the Arizona State Parks Board voted to suspend all existing Heritage Fund Grants.  As a result 28 Historic Preservation Grants, 10 Local, Regional and State Parks Grants, and 10 Trails Grants that were one to 90 percent complete were suspended.  These 48 grants totaled $6,049,024.  Eleven grants that were 91-99 percent complete were allowed to continue. [Note: To read the full article, click here]

Viewpoint: Cynical budget plan could close more Arizona state parks

[Source: Doug Frerichs, Arizona State Parks Foundation] — If state legislators stick to their latest budget plans, hundreds of thousands of state parks visitors are likely to have far fewer parks to visit next year, while recession-reeling Arizona communities could suffer major losses in parks tourism and money. At issue are House and Senate Budget Bills that would strip fee-generated revenues from Arizona State Parks, forcing the cash-strapped agency to close more parks or expend funds set aside by voters specifically for parks enhancements and community grants.  In addition to parks already shut because of legislative raids on State Parks earlier this year, the bill could force closure of such scenic sites as Red Rock State Park near Sedona, Oracle State Park north of Tucson, Yuma Quartermaster Depot, Tubac Presidio, and other prized locations.  Even Kartchner Caverns, the jewel of the state system, stands at risk.

In a cynical move, Senate leaders would confiscate State Parks fee-generated income, leaving the agency to rob the Arizona Heritage Fund to sustain a skeleton parks system.  The Heritage Fund, approved by voters in 1990, sets aside $10 million annually from the State Lottery for grants to finance community parks, historic preservation, and conservation projects.  Beyond cynicism, the latest budget schemes would strip away a portion of donations made to benefit state parks by private donors acting in good faith.

To her credit, Gov. Jan Brewer has proposed a more honest, pragmatic approach that would let State Parks keep its fee monies and not subvert purposes of the Heritage Fund.  The governor also recognizes that State Parks — in addition to its superb recreational, historic and natural values — is an economic engine that regularly draws more than 2 million visitors a year and pumps $250 million in tourism spending into local economies.  The governor also has appointed a Sustainable State Parks Task Force to recommend new ways of funding and maintaining such sites as Slide Rock, Riordan Mansion, Dead Horse Ranch, Lake Havasu and Kartchner Caverns state parks — places that annually draw huge numbers for fishing, boating, birding, hiking, camping, and pure enjoyment of our state’s great places.

State Parks is not an agency to be slashed when Arizona communities need tourism dollars.  Despite this, the latest budget measures would repeat mistakes made earlier this year when lawmakers lopped the State Parks’ budget by $34.6 million, resulting in a 30 percent reduction in parks staffing, closure of three parks and reduced operations at six more.  And all this on top of the fact that State Parks has had no general fund or capital budget increases for a decade.

Our state parks were bought and built by Arizonans over the course of half a century.  They were enhanced and improved with major efforts of volunteers. They have provided two, and now three generations with experiences and memories of some of Arizona’s best places.  Raiding the agency, stripping it of its small state general fund support, and forcing the State Parks Board to cannibalize the Heritage Fund are sure fire ways for legislators to destroy what’s good in government, hurt local economies, and leave the future with less.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Doug Frerichs is a board member and past president of the Arizona State Parks Foundation, a private, non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for and supporting Arizona’s state parks system. He lives in Scottsdale.

House kills measure that would re-open Arizona state parks on full-time basis

Arizona State House of Representatives (Phoenix, Arizona) by courthouselover.
Arizona House of Representatives (Photo source: courthouselover, Flickr)

[Source: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services] — The state House lawmakers killed legislation Tuesday that would have provided money to reopen state parks on a full-time basis. A total of 36 legislators voted for the measure that would have taken $20 million from a special account designed to deal with urban sprawl and given some of that to the state Parks Board to compensate for cuts in the agency’s budget made by lawmakers in January.   But HB 2088 needed 45 votes because the fund was created by voters in 1998.  And the Arizona Constitution requires a three-fourths margin of the 60-member House — and the 30-member Senate — to alter what voters have approved.

Deputy Parks Director Jay Zieman said Tuesday’s action means five parks will remain closed two days a week to save money. It also delays the reopening of three other parks that were shuttered entirely, at least in part to cut costs.   The defeat came when every House Democrat except one refused to support the measure.

Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said he was sympathetic to the needs of the Parks Department.  But he questioned the legality of the move.  He pointed out that the constitution forbids lawmakers from tinkering with any program approved by voters. He said the only exception, even with a three-fourths margin, is when a change “furthers the purpose’ of the underlying measure.  In this case, he said voters approved providing $20 million a year for 11 years to help purchase or lease state trust lands in urban areas to keep them out of the hands of developers.  Funding the operation of parks, said Campbell, does not do that.  He also said raiding voter-approved funds sets a “bad precedent.”

None of that placated Zieman.  “We expect to have $98 million in that fund at the end of the fiscal year,’ he said.  “It is maddening to be in a position where you’re closing parks’ because 30 percent of the staff has been let go.

The state has closed Tonto, McFarland and Jerome state parks, though some of the reason they were chosen because of work that needs to be done at each site.  What was not anticipated was the need to go to a five-day-a-week schedule at six other parks: Fort Verde, Oracle, Tombstone Courthouse, Tubac Presidio, Yuma Territorial Prison, and the Yuma Quartermaster Depot.  The state is saving money by chaining them closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Aside from the closures and reduced schedules, Zieman said his agency also has suspended funding grants, even in cases where groups had been given the go-ahead and work had been started.

Rep. Warde Nichols, R-Gilbert, who crafted the legislation, said the move made sense not to tap the funds which “are doing absolutely nothing for our state right now.”  One reason there is so much money in the account because the 1998 law requires that taxpayer funds be matched by other sources, whether public or private.  Those matching funds have not materialized. Beyond that, Nichols said the economy has slowed development to the point where builders are not buying up large swaths of state land.  And Nichols said the funding is just a loan: The legislation would have required the state to put back the $20 million in the future.

But Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said that payback is not guaranteed, as future lawmakers could simply vote to ignore the mandate. [Note: To read the full article, click here.  To read the Camp Verde Bugle’s editorial on this subject, click here.]

Tucson group’s black-tie ball strives to make up for raided Arizona Heritage Fund grant

[Source: Loni Nannini, Arizona Daily Star] — In Tucson, they are the hostesses with the mostest: The Silver & Turquoise Board of Hostesses throws a party with purpose.   Over the past 16 years, the Mission San Xavier del Bac has been the sole beneficiary of more than $325,000 in proceeds from the Board of Hostesses’ annual Silver & Turquoise Ball.

Their commitment to restoration of the mission is just one example of the 50 active members’ dedication to the community, according to Ginny Healy, chairwoman of the upcoming ball and 11-year veteran of the non-profit Board of Hostesses.   “The women I have worked with at the Board of Hostesses are some of the most outstanding women in the community.  You see their professional accomplishments and contributions through volunteer service everywhere around Tucson,” said Healy, senior director of development for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Colleges of Letters, Arts and Science at the University of Arizona.

The Board of Hostesses was created 59 years ago to promote, support and encourage the preservation of Tucson’s historical traditions and diverse cultural heritage.  The ball originated as a potluck thank-you for volunteers of the now-defunct Tucson Festival Society, which staged events such as Pioneer Days, La Parada de los Niños and the Children’s Writing and Art Festival.  The potluck soon moved to the Arizona Inn at the urging of proprietor Isabella Greenway and has remained there since.  Healy believes the location, the history and the compelling cause culminate in Tucson’s most enjoyable ball.   “It is really just a party to celebrate people who have volunteered in the community and the work they have done.  It is for people to sit back and enjoy themselves and has really become one of Tucson’s great traditions,” said Healy, who is producing a documentary on the ball with director and co-producer LuisCarlos Romero Davis.

Healy said support of the mission remains a motivating factor, particularly because $150,000 in state funding for the ongoing $7 million-plus restoration was cut on Feb. 2.   The grant had been awarded through Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund, which set aside proceeds from the Arizona Lottery to fund historical restoration projects and trail management.  The money was slated for work on the east tower, where continued water damage could eventually threaten the structural integrity and damage interior artwork.  “Originally those (Heritage) funds were voter-approved, and I don’t think voters approved what the state is doing with them now.  We can’t start work on the tower until we have more funds available,” said Vern Lamplot, executive director of the Patronato San Xavier, a non-profit corporation dedicated to preservation of the mission.

In his appeal for support of the mission, Lamplot emphasized its cultural and historic value as one of the original 10 structures on the National Register of Historic Places and its bankability as a major tourist attraction that hosts more than 250,000 worldwide visitors annually.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]