State Parks petitions hit the street

[Source: Steve Ayers, Camp Verde Bugle] – The move to put an initiative on the November ballot that supporters hope will stabilize and sustain Arizona’s 27 state parks, is underway. It is known as the Arizona Natural Resources Protection Act. With five state parks located in the Verde Valley, along with the Verde River Greenway, the initiative is getting plenty of support locally.

“This has everything to do with the value of state parks to the Verde Valley and to Yavapai County,” says Chip Norton, president of the Friends of the Verde River Greenway. “It means a lot to our communities and the opportunities it provides for school kids as well as the residents. The tourism component is really big. The amount of money it brings into the valley is pretty phenomenal. They have been hanging on the edge for too long, forcing local communities to keep them going.” Norton and the friends group launched the petition drive at a meeting last Thursday, at a meeting in Cottonwood.

If the initiative makes the ballot and it passes, it would fund the operations of Arizona State Parks as well as the Heritage Fund, which was also raided by the Legislature, with a $14 donation attached to annual vehicle registration. The charge would be automatically added to the registration cost, but vehicle owners could opt out. Supporters hope it will raise $30 million a year. The initiative protects all money donated to the fund from legislative sweeps and re-establishes the Arizona State Parks grant program, which pays for municipal and nonprofit recreation projects across the state. It also provides for free admission to state parks for school-age children when on school sanctioned field trips and sets aside at least one day every year in which anyone could come to a state park for free.

The initiative was launched by the Arizona State Parks Foundation after House Bill 2362, which overwhelmingly passed both the house and Senate, was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer. “We have been watching for some time and realized there was growing support for long-term support and a long term funding mechanism of some sort. So we began forming a coalition,” says ASPF Director Christy Statler. “The straw that broke the camel’s back was the governor’s veto. And no legislator wanted to stick their neck out for a referral to the voters, so we mobilized and are moving forward with the Arizona Natural Resources Act.”

Volunteers will be circulating petitions around the valley over the next few weeks. To get on the ballot, 175,000 signatures will need to be collected statewide by the July 5 deadline.

New Statewide Coalition Rallies For Parks and Open Space

[Source: Christie Silverstein, Arizona Forward, 2/21/2012] – A statewide coalition of business and environmental organizations rallied today at the State Capitol in support of legislation to bolster the financial condition of Arizona State Parks. The lead organizations were Arizona Forward, a statewide business association, and the Arizona State Parks Foundation, backed by 300 other business, environmental and community organizations. Arizona Forward was launched on Aug. 31 with the release of  “Why Parks and Open Space Matter – the Economics of Arizona’s Natural Assets,” a comprehensive examination of the status of Arizona efforts to preserve the outdoor environment. After releasing the primer, Arizona Forward was contacted by parks stakeholders around the state to help form an advocacy coalition.

The immediate purpose of the capitol rally is to show support for HB 2362, a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Karen Fann, R‐Prescott, with 22 other sponsors in the House and Senate. The bill would protect the income earned by state parks through entrance fees and other user charges from legislative budget sweeps. Brian Martyn, a Pinal County supervisor and Parks Foundation board member, said the Fann bill is vitally important to state parks in trying to meet business goals. “Like any business, state parks need incentives to meet its objectives, including the assurance that using best business practices will contribute to the financial success of the parks system,” said Martyn.

“That assurance is missing if the Legislature can sweep the income that parks earn.”

Other messages advanced by the coalition, Martyn said, include “the recognition that the Fann bill doesn’t solve the long‐term funding gap faced by state parks and we are working to convince legislators that state parks operations cannot stand any additional sweeps from its remaining revenue sources.”

Martyn noted that state parks are in precarious financial condition, causing a number of

parks to operate on reduced hours and others staying open only through temporary

contributions from local governments and friends groups. Kurt Wadlington, Tucson building group leader for Sundt Construction and chairman of Arizona Forward, said the parks report was validation of the business case for environmental prioritization. “We learned from statewide polling that nearly every Arizonan (93 percent) believes that parks and open space are essential to Arizona tourism, a $17 billion industry.”

“Other studies we reviewed showed that outdoor recreation attracts more than 5.5 million Arizonans, generating approximately $350 million in annual state taxes and nearly $5 billion in retail services while supporting 82,000 jobs,” he said. “Clearly, it is in every Arizonan’s interest to maintain a robust system of parks, open space and wildlife habitat and Arizona Forward is exploring long‐term solutions to funding that system,” added Wadlington.

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.