Arizona Legislature’s funding sweep could doom Bullhead City parks projects

Rotary Park, Bullhead City

[Source: Neil Young, Mohave Daily News] — The city of Bullhead City could be left holding the bag if the state of Arizona pulls grant funding from a park improvement project already under way.  In scrambling to close a $1.6 billion budget deficit, state legislators are “sweeping” dollars from various funds, including the State Lake Improvement Funds (SLIF) and the Local, Regional and State Parks (LRSP) Heritage Fund.  Bullhead City relies heavily on grant funding for its park improvements.  “What Arizona State Parks (Department) told me,” said Karla Brady, Bullhead City’s interim parks, recreation and community services director, “the state is coming in and as of Feb. 28, taking… funding and that included already-awarded grants, which was unexpected.”

Several Bullhead City park projects would be affected, Brady said.  State Parks officials told her “only expenses incurred through Feb. 1 would be reimbursable.  I could request reimbursement within the next week or two, but basically, no more work could be done under a grant project.”

The Rotary Park north beach renovation project already is in progress. Work is being performed by Larry D. Builders, which was awarded a $454,000 contract.  “It could leave us with a liability of $224,000 in SLIF funding that we would not be able to get,” Brady said.  Finding that much money is next to impossible; Bullhead City has instituted job freezes and laid off employees due to lack of funds.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Arizona’s state parks face “devastating” cuts

State budget cuts may cause Tonto Natural Bridge officials to postpone fixing leaky roof and restoring historic lodge. (Roundup photo file)

[Source: Pete Aleshire, Payson Roundup] — Tonto Natural Bridge State Park has put out an urgent plea for volunteer workers after learning it must lay off half its staff to cope with “devastating” legislative budget cuts.  Staggered by the a mid-year $5-million budget cut approved by lawmakers over the weekend, the Arizona State Parks Board this week held an emergency meeting to find alternatives to closing eight of the state’s 27 parks.  “We do not have enough money to run the parks until June,” said assistant director Jay Ziemann.  “The parks system is rapidly falling apart.”

The legislature has now not only cut general fund contributions to the park to a fraction of the operating cost, but has swept some $32 million from various funds earmarked by law for various park and recreation purposes. 

Tonto Natural Bridge features a 183-foot-high arch of travertine over a 150-foot-long tunnel dissolved in a wall of rock.  The park remains one of the best-known attractions in Rim Country, where towns are struggling to maintain tourism in the face of the downturn.  The cuts have killed the staff’s hopes for money to fix a leaky roof and restore the historic lodge, which park managers had hoped to contract for this spring.  Now, the park will need more volunteers just to maintain minimal operations.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Arizona State Parks director gets 11% raise amid budget crisis

[Source: Casey Newton, Arizona Republic] — As the Arizona State Parks Board was entering the budget crisis that threatens to close eight parks and cause dozens of layoffs, the board gave its director an 11% raise.  Ken Travous, who has worked for the board since 1986, saw his salary increase in November by more than $14,000, to $142,811.  The move was made retroactive to July 1, 2008, to ensure Travous receives increased benefits when he retires June 30.

The news has rankled some parks employees, who are bracing for possible layoffs when the board considers closing parks later this month.  Most state employees received raises of 2% or less over the past four years.  Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said salary increases for top officials can make it more difficult to convince the Legislature that more funds are needed for park operating expenses.  “Throwing that into the mix kind of undercuts the message,” she said.  “When you’re talking about laying people off and furloughing people and closing parks, everyone is going to have to do their part.  So it does not seem like a good time.” 

Board Chairman Reese Woodling said Travous approached him about a raise last year, noting that he had not received a salary increase since 2004.  Woodling, who helped hire Travous, said Travous has a distinguished record of service and deserved a raise.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Roper, 7 other Arizona state parks to remain open for now

Roper Lake State Park

[Source: Diane Saunders, Eastern Arizona Courier] — Roper Lake State Park south of Safford dodged an economic bullet Feb. 4 when the Arizona State Parks Board decided not to close eight state parks in an effort to help the state budget crisis.  Instead, the State Parks Board will examine other ways to overcome a budget deficit at its Feb. 20 meeting, according to the department’s Web site.

Roper Lake and seven other Arizona state parks were targeted for closure after the Arizona Legislature decided to divert money from the agency to help balance the state’s budget.  According to the Arizona State Parks Department, Roper is one of the costliest parks in Arizona to operate.  Nearly 86,000 people visit Roper each year, however, the cost to the state is $2.51 per visitor.  In comparison, Arizona’s costliest park to operate is McFarland State Historic Park in Pinal County.  That park draws 4,945 visitors a year and it costs the state $37.94 per visitor to operate, according to the Arizona State Parks Department.

Only two of Arizona’s state parks make money — Catalina in Pima County and Kartchner Caverns in Cochise County.  Catalina has 168,874 visitors a year and makes a profit of 90 cents per visitor.  Kartchner draws 160,013 visitors a year and makes $2.51 per visitor.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]