Legislative cost-cutting threatens Arizona parks (Tucson Citizen guest opinion)

[Source: Bill Meek, Arizona State Parks Foundation] — Arizona’s state parks system is crumbling, and the Legislature is threatening to apply a sledgehammer to the problem.  Our 30 state park sites preserve some scenic gems, such as Catalina near Tucson, the world-famous Kartchner Caverns near Benson, and Red Rock State Park in Sedona.  State parks also protect historic treasures such as Homolovi Ruins near Winslow and the Yuma Territorial Prison.  And a bevy of wildly popular water-oriented parks are at lakes and rivers across the state.  Arizona’s state parks welcomed 2.3 million visitors last year.

In exchange for meager state funding, the parks generate about $126 million annually in tourist revenue for their neighboring counties and municipalities, shows a 2002 study by Northern Arizona University.  The Legislature appropriates only $8.2 million to the Parks department from the general fund.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

APF issues “Action Alert!” on State Parks cost-cutting

Action Alert!
Help provide fast, effective action to influence key decisions on Arizona’s historic treasures
December 19, 2007 ~ Arizona Preservation Foundation

Legislative cost-cutting threatens Arizona’s state parks

The Arizona state parks system is crumbling, and the Arizona Legislature is threatening to apply a sledgehammer to the problem. For those who are not parks-savvy, the 30 state park sites preserve some of the state’s scenic gems, like Red Rock State Park in Sedona, Catalina State Park near Tucson, and the world-famous Kartchner Caverns near Benson. State parks also protect historic treasures like Homolovi Ruins near Winslow and the Yuma Territorial Prison. And they include a bevy of wildly popular water-oriented parks at lakes and rivers across the state.

State parks welcomed 2.3 million visitors last year. In exchange for meager state funding, the parks generate about $126 million annually in tourist revenue for counties and municipalities that are neighbors to state parks, according to a 2002 study by Northern Arizona University.

The Legislature appropriates only $8.2 million to the Parks Department from the state’s general fund. The rest of the department’s operating budget and all its money for park upkeep and improvements come from funds made up of user fees, various grants, and a voter-approved share of the state lottery.

That might be marginally acceptable, but the Legislature won’t let those funds alone. During the past state budget crisis, in 2002-03, the Legislature swept more than $40 million out of those funds, leaving the parks system with almost no resources for capital spending. The parks have never recovered, and now the Legislature is proposing to do it again.

Legislative budgeters have proposed a list of parks-fund sweeps totaling $38.3 million in the current fiscal year to help the state out of its projected $1 billion budget deficit. Much of that money is actually designated by law to be used as grants to counties and municipalities for parks and open space, but the net effect of the sweeps is that state parks would again be left with no capital money.

Clearly, there is a problem of fairness here. The parks system is being asked to contribute to fiscal rescue far out of proportion to its tiny $8.2 million impact on the state budget. But the real issue is that this scheme will leave the parks with no resources to stop the steady deterioration of the system.

The Parks Department has identified nearly $44 million in urgent capital needs encompassing 27 of the 30 state parks. For example:

  • The parks system is under orders from the Department of Environmental Quality to clean up many of its waste-disposal systems. The cleanup would cost $6.5 million, which the Parks Department can’t afford.
  • At Buckskin Mountain on the Colorado River, priceless riverbank is eroding away. Stabilization is a $2 million project, but never mind, that park also has a $75,000 wastewater pump that is inching toward failure, and that would cause the park to close.
  • The historic lodge at Tonto Natural Bridge would be a moneymaker if it could be refurbished to house paying guests, but a leaking roof, which went unrepaired, has turned a cosmetic renovation into a $1 million reconstruction project.
  • Significant cracks and structural weaknesses are showing up with regularity in historic buildings like the Douglas Mansion in Jerome and McFarland Courthouse in Florence. A ceiling at the historic Yuma Quartermaster Station collapsed recently.

The list of capital needs is nearly endless, and the Legislature’s strategy is cynical and purposeful. The strategy appears to be to leave the parks system enough operating money to avoid layoffs but to pilfer the less-visible funds that pay for system upkeep and improvements.

What can we do to prevent this? We can write, e-mail, or call our state senators and state representatives and tell them to take the state parks system out of their budget cross hairs. The future of the park system may absolutely be at stake.

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What you can do

To contact your state senator or state representative, click here.

Source of information

The text for this Action Alert! is reprinted from an Arizona Republic “My Turn” column, December 19, 2007, by Bill Meek, a member of the board of directors of the Arizona State Parks Foundation, a non-profit organization formed to provide financial and other support for state parks. The Arizona State Parks Foundation, Arizona Preservation Foundation, Arizona Heritage Alliance, and National Trust for Historic Preservation (among others) are working to call attention to the plight of Arizona’s state parks. Bill can be reached by clicking here.

Resources

About Arizona Preservation Foundation

The Arizona Preservation Foundation (APF) is Arizona’s only non-profit statewide historic preservation organization. Founded in 1979, APF is dedicated to preserving Arizona’s historical, archaeological, architectural, and cultural resources. APF offers a variety of services and programs, including sponsorship of Arizona’s annual Historic Preservation Awards in conjunction with the State Historic Preservation Office; presentation of workshops, including heritage tourism, adobe conservation, maintenance of historic properties, and government ordinances’ impact on local preservation; and initiation of Arizona’s list of most endangered historically significant sites. For more information, click here.

The fine print

  • Who publishes this? Action Alert! is published by the Arizona Preservation Foundation. Information contained in this e-mail is drafted, reviewed, and approved by designated APF representatives.
  • Threatened buildings or sites. If you know of a threatened landmark, architectural or archaeological, send us an e-mail. APF representatives will work with you and other interested parties to help determine a course of action.

Don’t shortchange State Parks (Arizona Daily Star guest opinion)

[Source: Bill Roe, Arizona State Parks Foundation] — Across the state, communities from Tucson to Flagstaff, Parker to Pinetop, and dozens of places in between derive millions of dollars annually from activities associated with Arizona State Parks.  Yet to look at the state Legislature’s latest budget-cutting plans, you would think the economic, recreational, scenic, and historic values of State Parks count for naught.

For the second time in five years, the Legislature is poised to take State Parks funds in an ill-conceived bid to balance the state budget on the back of an agency that actually helps make money for the state.  Making the point, an economic study done for State Parks by Northern Arizona University in 2002 showed that the state’s 27 parks and conservation areas generated more than $126 million for local economies in that year.  But this seems lost on Legislators who fail to appreciate the business-like workings of the State Parks Department.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Open-space planning must start early, state parks director says

Ken Travous, Arizona State Parks[Source: Sonu Munshi, Cronkite News Service] — Leaders and citizens are failing to consider spaces that should be preserved at all cost as Arizona grows, and there’s no way to replace what’s being lost, the executive director of Arizona State Parks says.  “Planning in the West is a four-letter word; it’s a curse word.  ‘You’re getting in the way of people’s rights to do what they want,'” Ken Travous said in an interview with Cronkite News Service.  “Well yeah, you are.  At some point in time, let’s get over it and talk about what’s good for our neighbors also.”

Travous said a combination of factors keeps Arizona from planning for open space ahead of growth, including a shortage of public funding for land acquisition and newcomers who lack a sense of Arizona’s history and long-term needs.  “There has to be some kind of a recognition that the cost of growth needs to be addressed in the early stage so it’s healthy growth, so it’s not malignant growth,” Travous said.  “It doesn’t all need to be saved,” he said.  “But let’s take a couple years, and let’s take a couple million dollars, and let’s get some good minds together and determine what is worth saving at all costs.”  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]