[Source: Casey Newton, Arizona Republic] — In their latest effort to solve Arizona’s budget crisis with cuts, lawmakers turned to a woman who couldn’t make a fuss. After all, she has been dead for eight years. Alta Forest, a Danish immigrant who fell in love with Arizona after moving to Fountain Hills with her husband, left nearly $250,000 to the Arizona State Parks Board when she died of cancer at age 82.
When parks officials received the money in 2003, it was the largest private donation the parks system had ever received. They were unprepared for such a large gift, said Ken Travous, who served as state-parks director for 23 years before retiring in June. “We had never received anything of that magnitude before,” he said, adding that he began “looking for something that was big enough to really make her proud.”
While parks officials considered what to do with the money, Arizona’s budget deficit ballooned into the billions. Last month, when the Republican-led Legislature met in special session to cut $140 million from the budget, it swept up half the money in the parks system’s donations fund, which included most of Forest’s donation. “It was like they had kicked me in the stomach,” Travous said. “Surely, I thought, they have some shame. But they’re shameless.” [Note: Read the full article at Widow’s hefty donation to Arizona parks is poached.]
[Source: Ed Tribble, Channel 12 News] — The latest round of budget cuts earlier this month could close down most state parks. Arizona State Parks Board members met Thursday to look at their options. State parks are supposed to be tranquil places, somewhere to get away from life’s troubles. But due to budget cuts, the parks themselves are in trouble. “Without these state parks, people will be at a loss on where to go,” says Parks Board Chairman Reese Woodling.
At Thursday’s meeting, board members are making priorities: keep open parks that make money, and ones that don’t cost too much to run. In mid December, lawmakers raided about $9 million from the park’s coffers. “It’s a horrible situation and sends a terrible message to our kids and future generations that we’re not willing to step up during these tough times,” says Sandy Bahr with the Sierra Club.
No word yet on which parks will close. But some communities like Lake Havasu City let board members know they would be willing to lease parks so they could stay open. “We believe we could fold those into our existing park system, it’s close to another park, something we believe we could do very easily,” Lake Havasu City Mayor Mark Nexsen says.
In the long term, the parks department would like to add a fee to vehicle registration. Cars with Arizona license plates could get into parks for free. Out of state visitors would have to pay. [Note: Read the full article at Arizona State Parks Board considers cuts.]
[Source: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services/Arizona Daily Star] — The decision by lawmakers last month to take funds from the parks system means some will be closed later this year, the director of the agency said Thursday. The only question that remains, Renee Bahl said, is which ones. Bahl said the system, which already gets no direct taxpayer dollars, is being crippled because of the legislative action to take away a chunk of the funds they get from other sources. That includes not only the fees paid by those who go to the parks but also special funds raised, such as assessments on registration of boats and off-road vehicles. The bottom line, she said, is that her agency will have $7.5 million to spend rather than the $19 million it had planned for the fiscal year that began last July 1.
Bahl said she will make specific recommendations to the board on which parks to close in two weeks. But she outlined the criteria her staff will use — criteria that are likely to be bad news for the smallest and least-used of the parks. One of the most important, she said, is which make money or, at the very least, don’t lose a lot. Bahl said that makes the most sense, as the cash from those parks might eventually be enough to reopen one or more of those shut down.
Topping the list of money producers is Kartchner Caverns, near Benson, followed by Slide Rock and Lake Havasu state parks. Catalina State Park, north of Tucson, brings in about $193,000 more a year than it costs to operate. But the parks system also is populated with sites that bleed red ink. Topping that list is Tonto Natural Bridge near Payson, where costs exceed revenues by $541,000. Red Rock State Park at Sedona operates on a $190,000-a-year loss, with six-digit deficits at Tubac Presidio, Picacho Peak, Homolovi Ruins, and the Riordan Mansion in Flagstaff.
Bahl said, though, that the board will have to consider other factors when deciding which parks should be shut down. “There are one-time costs like fencing, or if we needed to add a security system to a building or board something up,” she said. “And we’re still going to need to keep an eye on it after that, checking it both for fire hazards and seeing if there’s any trespassing.”
Several board members, given the news, lashed out at lawmakers for taking the funds, even after being told at hearings last month that it will mean shutting parks. “We have people in the Legislature who don’t believe state parks should exist,” Tracey Westerhausen complained. She said the best thing that those who want the parks system could do is go out this year and elect different people.
Board Chairman Reese Woodling said the parks bring in more in tax dollars from visitors to communities than the cost. He said that message seems lost on lawmakers. But board member Arlan Colton said it’s not that they don’t understand. He said that, facing a multibillion-dollar deficit, “I don’t really think they give a horse’s patootie” about the effect of taking a couple of million dollars from the parks system.
Woodling said he and Bahl spoke with Gov. Jan Brewer earlier this week. He said the governor, who signed the legislation authorizing taking the money, was sympathetic but offered no answers. “I’m just sick to my stomach,” he said. Brewer had no choice but to approve raiding the funds, said her spokesman, Paul Senseman. “The Legislature has been unable to muster enough support for a deficit-reduction plan,” he said.
But Senseman said Brewer is unwilling, at least at this point, to endorse the recommendation of a task force she formed to create a “sustainable” park system: put an optional $15 surcharge on the registration fees for all vehicles in this state. The fees would raise enough to keep the system operating, with motorists who paid the extra cash getting free admission all year to every state park. “The governor believes it ought to be discussed in a very serious fashion,” Senseman said of the recommendation. [Note: To read the full article, visit Which Arizona state parks will close?]
[Source: Jim Walsh, Arizona Republic] — Even as Arizona prepares for its centennial in 2012, the state’s history is becoming less and less accessible to the average citizen. Museums across Arizona are cutting hours, restricting programs, merging or closing altogether in the face of drastic budget problems. The State Archives, which had been open only two half-days a week, is trying to figure out how to go to a four-day schedule with a diminished staff.
And state parks, many with historical significance, can’t turn enough money at the gate to maintain aging and sometimes-dangerous facilities and stay open. The impact is significant: In a state where so many people are newcomers, the institutions that can help them connect to their new state’s history are harder to access. “The more people know about their place, the more likely they are to be good citizens,” said Dan Shilling, an expert in civic tourism and a former executive director of the Arizona Humanities Council. Museums play an important part in extending that knowledge, Shilling said. [Note: To read the full article, click here]