[Source: Tammy Gray-Searles, Navajo County Publishers] — The early shutdown of campgrounds at Arizona State Parks is likely a foreshadowing of things to come for several parks across the state, including Lyman Lake and Homolovi state parks. Regardless of the final outcome of the state budget, which was still not finalized as of press time Wednesday, the Arizona State Parks Board will be forced to make painful budget cuts. Reducing costs by closing at least eight state parks is still at the top of the list, and was scheduled to be the topic of a July 2 work session.
According to state parks spokesman Ellen Bilbrey, board members were not expected to take action at the work session, but instead were to determine exactly how to proceed when they hold their next regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 3.
The July 2 agenda called for the board to meet in executive session “for legal advice regarding strategies necessary to balance the budget including, but not limited to, spending reductions, staff layoffs or reductions in force, transferring expenses to alternative funding sources, suspending grant payments, suspending FY2010 grant cycle, park closures, reduction of hours/days of operations, deferring parks capital projects, furloughs, salary reductions, spending reductions…” Public discussion was scheduled following the executive session.
[Source: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services] — The state House lawmakers killed legislation Tuesday that would have provided money to reopen state parks on a full-time basis. A total of 36 legislators voted for the measure that would have taken $20 million from a special account designed to deal with urban sprawl and given some of that to the state Parks Board to compensate for cuts in the agency’s budget made by lawmakers in January. But HB 2088 needed 45 votes because the fund was created by voters in 1998. And the Arizona Constitution requires a three-fourths margin of the 60-member House — and the 30-member Senate — to alter what voters have approved.
Deputy Parks Director Jay Zieman said Tuesday’s action means five parks will remain closed two days a week to save money. It also delays the reopening of three other parks that were shuttered entirely, at least in part to cut costs. The defeat came when every House Democrat except one refused to support the measure.
Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said he was sympathetic to the needs of the Parks Department. But he questioned the legality of the move. He pointed out that the constitution forbids lawmakers from tinkering with any program approved by voters. He said the only exception, even with a three-fourths margin, is when a change “furthers the purpose’ of the underlying measure. In this case, he said voters approved providing $20 million a year for 11 years to help purchase or lease state trust lands in urban areas to keep them out of the hands of developers. Funding the operation of parks, said Campbell, does not do that. He also said raiding voter-approved funds sets a “bad precedent.”
None of that placated Zieman. “We expect to have $98 million in that fund at the end of the fiscal year,’ he said. “It is maddening to be in a position where you’re closing parks’ because 30 percent of the staff has been let go.
The state has closed Tonto, McFarland and Jerome state parks, though some of the reason they were chosen because of work that needs to be done at each site. What was not anticipated was the need to go to a five-day-a-week schedule at six other parks: Fort Verde, Oracle, Tombstone Courthouse, Tubac Presidio, Yuma Territorial Prison, and the Yuma Quartermaster Depot. The state is saving money by chaining them closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Aside from the closures and reduced schedules, Zieman said his agency also has suspended funding grants, even in cases where groups had been given the go-ahead and work had been started.
Rep. Warde Nichols, R-Gilbert, who crafted the legislation, said the move made sense not to tap the funds which “are doing absolutely nothing for our state right now.” One reason there is so much money in the account because the 1998 law requires that taxpayer funds be matched by other sources, whether public or private. Those matching funds have not materialized. Beyond that, Nichols said the economy has slowed development to the point where builders are not buying up large swaths of state land. And Nichols said the funding is just a loan: The legislation would have required the state to put back the $20 million in the future.
But Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said that payback is not guaranteed, as future lawmakers could simply vote to ignore the mandate. [Note: To read the full article, click here. To read the Camp Verde Bugle’s editorial on this subject, click here.]
[Source: KPHO Television, Phoenix] — The Arizona State Parks board meeting on Friday, April 3, resulted in operational changes for some parks in the Arizona State Parks system. At this meeting, the seven-member volunteer Parks Board passed a motion to allow the agency to reduce the days and hours of operation for the parks. This will ease the stress of trying to keep parks open seven days a week while dealing with a 26% reduction in ranger staff. Some of the consequences to a $34.5 million sweep in funds from various conservation-funded accounts and agency gate fees, include: suspending community grants, reduced park hours/days of operation, reduced supply purchasing, less vehicles, layoffs, and canceling special projects and programs statewide.
“In order to keep the parks as accessible to the public as possible with this reduction in force, we will begin shortening weeks starting April 14-15 in Yuma,” said Jay Ream, Assistant Director. “Both Yuma Territorial Prison and Yuma Quartermaster Depot will be open Thursday through Monday and closed Tuesday and Wednesdays with daily hours of 9am-5pm.”
“Tubac Presidio State Historic Park and Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park will have the same Thursday-Monday schedule with April 21-22 being the first days closed,” Ream said. “Fort Verde State Historic Park will switch to this schedule starting on May 5-6. Oracle State Park will begin its Thursday-Monday schedule starting on May 9-10. All of the daily park hours will be 9am-5pm.”
“We have already lost much of the workforce and I need to move the experienced rangers to the parks that need the help right away,” said Ream. “The danger we are facing is losing some of our experienced and highly trained rangers who would be almost impossible to replace. Unlike one skill other organizations would hire for, the State Parks are required to be run by people with a multitude of high level skills. These hybrid job descriptions include trained and certified as law enforcement officers, emergency medical training, wildland firefighters, crowd control, search and rescue, interpretation, natural resources, water and wastewater treatment certification, all of the skills in construction and maintenance, trail construction, research, and artifact management. These rangers must also have specific training for dangerous situations in wild country. These are not easy people to replace. They are the best of the best in these fields and highly recruited because of their multiple talents.
“Some of our “super rangers” are actually trained and skilled in every category I’ve mentioned,” said Ream. “They are committed to State Parks despite demanding training requirements and relatively low pay.” [Note: To read the full article, click here.]
For more information about Arizona State Parks, call 602-542-4174 (outside of the Phoenix metro area call toll-free 800-285-3703 or visit their website.
[Source: Associated Press] — The Arizona State Parks board on Friday announced reduced days and hours of operations at six parks as part of a cost-cutting plan. Assistant Director Jay Ream says Yuma Territorial Prison park and Yuma Quartermaster Depot park will be open Thursday through Monday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays starting April 14. Ream says Tubac Presidio State Historic Park and Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park will have the same Thursday-Monday schedule from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. starting April 21 with Fort Verde State Historic Park switching to that shortened schedule on May 5 and Oracle State Park doing the same on May 9.
After state lawmakers made budget cuts in January, the Parks Board authorized park officials to close individual parks up to two days a week. Ream says the parks also are dealing with a 26 percent reduction in ranger staff. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]