Payson’s Tonto state park aid cited in USA Today article

[Source: Emily Bazer, USA Today] — In communities where budget cuts have shuttered public pools, closed parks and canceled Fourth of July fireworks, some residents and businesses are giving time and money to save their favorite summer activities…

Businesses, residents and the town of Payson, Ariz., are giving time and money to keep nearby Tonto Natural Bridge State Park open some weekends.  Each year, more than 80,000 people visit the park and spend as much as $3 million in the area, according to Arizona State Parks. The state agency shut it down in February to help close a budget gap, said assistant parks director Jay Ream. Businesses and the city have pledged to pay as much as $5,000 to reopen the park on weekends, from Memorial Day through at least June.  Residents will volunteer at the park to reduce the need for paid staff, said Mayor Kenny Evans.  “We’re seeing a renaissance of people taking personal responsibility for the communities they love,” he said. “I really see it as a silver lining.” [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

House kills measure that would re-open Arizona state parks on full-time basis

Arizona State House of Representatives (Phoenix, Arizona) by courthouselover.
Arizona House of Representatives (Photo source: courthouselover, Flickr)

[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.]

(Un)Clean Sweep

Sullivan Hotel, circa 1915 (Photo source: Jerome Historical Society)

[Source: Jana Bommersbach, Phoenix Magazine] — It was such a thrilling day when the $150,000 ceremonial check arrived to save the old Sullivan Hotel on Main Street in Jerome. Most of the town celebrated that November day in 2007, because this state grant meant one of the most important preservation projects in the town’s history. After all, Jerome doesn’t have money of its own to restore its buildings, which all date to the early 1900s.  It’s so small that all 400 residents pose once a year for a picture of the entire town, and if it didn’t count on tourism to boost its economy, Jerome wouldn’t be there at all. Saving what it has is crucial to its very existence, so its residents certainly want to save the Sullivan Hotel.

It was built as a brothel run by the famous Madam Jennie Bauters – once the richest woman in the West – who came to the Arizona Territory specifically because it was one of the few places that allowed women to own property. The brothel later expanded and became a hotel, then a shop for artists.

Today, the four-story building is owned by Mary Wills and Sally Dryer.  It houses two Nellie Bly businesses that employ 12 people.  There’s plenty of room for even more shops – and more jobs and more sales tax money – if the building were restored and stabilized.  Mary and Sally are so committed to making that happen that they mortgaged the home that they share and borrowed from everyone they know once the grant was awarded.

AsSeenInPMThen they got the town itself to become the fiscal agent for a state grant from the Arizona Heritage Fund (private citizens can’t get these grants outright but can partner with municipalities).  The grant would cover 60 percent of the project while Mary and Sally would finance the other 40 percent.  But to get ready for the grant, which was to be dispersed as work was completed, the women had to spend a ton of money up front.  So far, they’ve spent some $170,000, trusting that a hunk of that would be reimbursed by the grant.

Today, that ceremonial check hangs in the window of Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes shop, defaced with big black letters that read: “Insufficient Funds.”  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Payson contributes funds to open Tonto Bridge park

[Source: Casey Newton, Arizona Republic] — A state park that closed in February will reopen later this month, thanks to funding from an unexpected source.   Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, which closed as part of cost-saving measures for the troubled state parks system, received about $5,000 from the city of Payson to allow it to reopen for at least five weekends. Payson will also contribute about 100 volunteers to help staff the park, Mayor Ken Evans said.

Evans said his cash-strapped city struggled with the decision of whether to donate money to the parks system.  Ultimately, fears of lost revenue from tourism led the city to volunteer money and staff.  More than 87,000 people visited Tonto during fiscal 2008.  The park will open for Memorial Day from May 22 through 25, and then reopen June 6 and 7, 13 and 14, 20 and 21, and 27 and 28.

The parks system closed McFarland and Jerome State Historic parks earlier this year, after lawmakers cut its budget by more than $36 million in the past year.  To reopen Tonto, officials will charge the salaries of two seasonal rangers to Payson.  The rangers make $11 an hour, parks operations chief Janet Hawks said in a statement.  In February, parks officials said closing the park would allow for repairs at Tonto’s lodge.  Spokeswoman Ellen Bilbrey said Tuesday that work has not yet begun on the lodge, and that visitors will not be able to use it when the park reopens.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]