[Source: ABC15.com, Mike Pelton] – State parks across Arizona could face a financial nightmare if a senate budget proposal passes, members of the state parks board said Wednesday. The Arizona Senate passed a budget proposal for next year and, in an attempt to balance the budget, proposed transferring money from state parks to the general fund.
“State parks is not only an enterprise agency but an economic engine,” said Tracey Westerhausen, chairman of the state parks board. Westerhausen said the senate’s budget proposal would transfer more than $3 million that state parks generate from the public, and transfer it to the general fund for other uses. “It’s hard for us to run like a business when the money we generate would be taken away,” she said. Westerhausen cited the importance of state parks for the economy. Parks often draw tourists out to rural areas around the state, bringing money with them.
“The Lost Dutchman state park is very important, not just to this business but the entire community,” said Mark LeReshe, who owns Superstition Harley Davidson in Apache Junction, just miles from the Lost Dutchman park.
ABC15 contacted members of the state senate, who refused to comment on the issue. State parks is only one area the senate budget proposal suggests gathering additional funds from. Other industries would be affected as well, such as the department of health services. Business owners, such as LeReshe, said they will continue to help keep the parks open as best they can. LeReshe has helped raise thousands of dollars for Lost Dutchman. “We’re going to fight,” he said. “We’re going to fight to keep that park open.”
The state parks have faced financial trouble in recent years. Currently, 28 of the state’s 30 state parks are open. The senate’s budget proposal still has to go through the House, where it could face changes, before it heads to Governor Brewer’s desk.
[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?]
The Honorable Janet Napolitano
State of Arizona
1700 W. Washington, 9th Floor
Phoenix, Arizona 85007
Dear Governor Napolitano:
We appreciate your continued leadership in protecting and enhancing Arizona’s natural and cultural resources. The Arizona State Parks Board met on July 18 and 19, 2008, to assess the impact of this year’s budget cuts and to prepare recommendations for you for FY 2010 and beyond. We recognize the dire financial circumstances surrounding this year’s budget and applaud your ability to find and maintain a balance between the variety of needs of our citizenry and our current capacity to respond.
We are a Board that is made up entirely of your appointees and are seeking ways to reverse the deterioration of the State Park’s infrastructure. We recognize that FY 2009’s budget will be just as challenging as this year’s budget.
On July 18, 2008, the Parks Board passed a Motion regarding operating budgets in FY 2009, FY 2010 and FY 2011. The Motion is consistent with the constraints suggested by your budget staff. As part of the Motion, we unanimously voted to seek your support in appointing a Blue Ribbon Committee whose charge would be to determine the present and future needs of the State Park System and explore new revenue sources. The Arizona State Parks Board requests that you appoint such a Committee by November 30, 2008, and ask them to report back to you with recommendations on or before June 30, 2009.
Our current State Parks System is in dramatic need of new resources. There has not been adequate investment in our infrastructure for more than a decade. Hence, key conservation opportunities need to be taken to allow Arizonans and Arizona’s visitors to experience and embrace the special areas of this great State of Arizona. Arizona’s “lifestyle,” which is a major factor in our State’s growing economy, is dependant upon a good statewide parks and recreation system. State Parks has and should continue to provide assistance to local governments for their historical preservation and recreation programs. We would hope that you would charge your task force to answer some key policy questions:
What impact does Arizona State Parks’ recreation facilities have on the overall economic development of this State?
What new methods of financing could the State utilize in order to provide for efficient and effective parks and recreation areas and facilities?
Should there be a priority in the acquisition and development of water-based recreational resources?
What changes need to be made in long range planning and coordination to ensure the most effective implementation of the statewide park and recreation policies and programs?
Are there new creative intergovernmental resources for management and acquisition strategies?
Members of our Board are willing to serve on the task force or in any manner you suggest to help with this necessary exploration of new funding sources for the Arizona State Parks. We have instructed our Arizona State Parks staff that this is a top priority for their activities if you chose to appoint a Blue Ribbon Committee. As your appointees, Governor, we share your vision of balancing smart growth with quality natural and cultural resource protection and enhancement. Arizona State Parks is a critical part of this and we are pledged to work with you to help you achieve a better Arizona.
William C. Scalzo, Chairman
William C. Cordasco
Mark Winkleman, State Land Commissioner