Lawmaker: Funding state parks improvements now saves costs later

[Source: Donyelle Kesler, Cronkite News] – Delaying capital improvements needed after years of deep budget cuts to Arizona State Parks will only exacerbate the problems and increase future costs, a state lawmaker said Wednesday. “If you don’t take care of your infrastructure, it’s like not taking care of your house and if you let that little $2 item go and don’t fix it, you end up with a $100 repair bill,” said Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott.

Fann, whose district includes five state parks, said Arizona has been doing roughly the same thing with its parks for too long. “Not only are we behind the curve on fixing what should have been fixed years ago, but now we have additional problems on top of them,” she said. Bryan Martyn, director of Arizona State Parks, is requesting $15.5 million in Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget for capital improvements. Arizona State Parks hasn’t received money from the state’s general fund since 2009 and currently works off a $19.5 million budget. Officials say state parks have about $200 million in capital needs.

Fann, who pushed successfully last year to allow Arizona State Parks to keep all gate and concession fees, said that parks are vital to the state’s economy. “It is responsible for over 3,000 direct jobs, it is responsible for over $2 million worth of revenue, and so state parks is really something we need to keep open,” Fann said. “This isn’t a feel-good item, this is about our economy. The feel-good and the beauty and all that stuff, that’s just the icing on the cake.”

Cuts to the Arizona State Parks budget led to agreements allowing some communities to take over operations and keep parks operating. Arizona State Parks Board Chairman Tracy Westerhausen said the $15.5 million would be an investment. “It serves the people who come from outside of Arizona to see our parks and enriches the lives of the people who are here already,” she said. Westerhausen said the projects include improving water-treatment systems and electrification of campsites. “We’re under a state mandate to provide clean water to people who come to our parks, and one of the things we can’t do is improve our water structure in the parks,” she said.

Matthew Benson, a spokesman for the governor, said Brewer has taken Martyn’s request into account along with all of the proposals from other state agencies. “Of course state parks are a priority, but so is public safety, classroom education, road and transportation systems, Child Protective Services – all of these issues are important,” Benson said.

Grady Gammage Jr., who as a senior research fellow for Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy co-wrote a 2009 report on ways to fund state parks said the facilities are assets to both the state’s economy and residents. Image

“Part of reason people want to live in Arizona is because of the open space and natural resources of parks and it can have a lot to do with what makes the state attractive to businesses and people moving here,” Gammage said. “If you don’t support that, you risk a lot more than just damaging the parks, you risk damaging this economic engine that drives Arizona.”

Arizona Parks chief asks governor for ‘critical’ $15 mil in funds

[Source: Craig Harris, The Republic] – Arizona Parks Director Bryan Martyn said his agency has “critical funding issues” and is asking for additional state funding of about $15.5million for capital projects, operations and staff. Martyn, a self-described fiscal conservative who is just a few months into the parks job, has asked Gov. Jan Brewer, a fellow Republican, for the additional money in the fiscal 2014 state budget, which begins next July 1. “Arizona State Parks is a car running down the road 100 miles per hour with bald tires,” said Martyn, who became parks director May 1. “We need money for tires and gas.”

Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Brewer, said the governor and her budget team will weigh Martyn’s proposals. “The Parks Department request has come in like all other budget requests,” Benson said. “The budget process is under way, and the governor’s proposal will come out in the middle of January.” Benson declined to say whether Brewer would support additional funds for state parks.

Martyn said his department is seeking the additional funds because state parks have experienced significant cuts the past few years and have deteriorated. Parks need improvements, he said, because they are a product on which many Arizonans and out-of-state visitors are willing to spend money for something they enjoy.

Some of the money Martyn seeks would fund electrification of campsites at Catalina State Park near Tucson and new launch ramps for boats, roads and parking at Lake Havasu State Park. Martyn said the enhancements would increase visits by customers.

Martyn also wants to:

  • Build and install a potable-water line from Benson to Kartchner Caverns State Park in Cochise County, replacing the current well that draws water from an aquifer that feeds the caverns.
  • Replace a 40-year-old wastewater-treatment plant for Patagonia Lake State Park near Nogales to bring the facility into compliance with state environmental-quality standards.
  • Maintain base salaries for employees who received raises this fiscal year and add seven staff members for program management and administration.
  • Make non-routine repairs and maintenance within the park system.

The state went into its current budget cycle with more than $800 million in cash on hand. Martyn said he believes the state can afford to make an investment in parks. “I will use the money wisely to enhance the product,” said Martyn, who oversees a $21.1 million annual budget with 146 full-time positions. The state has 30 parks, with 27 in operation.

Martyn, a former Pinal County supervisor with 20 years of military experience, said he also plans to aggressively court lawmakers who will craft a budget with Brewer. “Every day, we have to sell state parks,” he said.