Budget plan avoids more Arizona state park closures

[Source: Casey Newton, Arizona Republic] — The state will likely avoid closing additional parks under a budget plan adopted Monday by the Arizona State Parks Board.  The board voted to adopt a $21.4 million budget that will preserve most hours of operations at the state’s 30 parks.  The parks system closed McFarland and Jerome state historic parks earlier this year after lawmakers slashed its budget by more than $36 million in the past year.  The parks board will meet next month to set new priorities and determine whether the parks will be reopened.

“It’s dark days,” said Renee Bahl, the parks system’s executive director.  “The bottom line is there’s just no more money.”

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, which also closed as part of cost-saving measures for the parks system, re-opened on weekends this summer with funding from the town of Payson.  The state’s agreement with Payson ended Sunday, and officials were hoping to negotiate an extension this week. Otherwise, the park will close.  [Note: To read the full article, click here]

McFarland State Historic Park could face budget ax

Ernest McFarland
Ernest W. McFarland, U.S. Senator, Governor, & Arizona Supreme Court Justice

[Source: Lindsey Collom, Arizona Republic] — McFarland State Historic Park in Florence was closed last week in anticipation of structural repairs, but if and when those repairs occur is up for debate.  The Arizona State Parks Board will meet in a regular board meeting Feb. 20 to discuss how to address a deficit created when lawmakers “swept” funds to help close a state budget shortfall. The deficit has threatened the closure of eight parks across Arizona — McFarland included.  Board members plan to discuss options in lieu of shut downs and take action during its board meeting.

According to a board agenda posted Wednesday, measures could include park closures; reduced park hours; hiring freezes; salary reductions; layoffs; and grant suspension. They will also explore alternative funding sources.  But hope may be in sight: Republican lawmakers on Tuesday moved to keep state parks open by taking $20 million from a land conservation fund.  The proposal faces a vote by the Rules Committee before going to the full House, where it would need three-quarters of the vote to pass.  

McFarland State Historic Park includes Arizona’s oldest standing courthouse and is also the largest adobe structure from the territorial period.  The park sits on the northern edge of Florence’s historic Main Street and draws about 5,000 annual visitors. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Arizona State Parks director gets 11% raise amid budget crisis

[Source: Casey Newton, Arizona Republic] — As the Arizona State Parks Board was entering the budget crisis that threatens to close eight parks and cause dozens of layoffs, the board gave its director an 11% raise.  Ken Travous, who has worked for the board since 1986, saw his salary increase in November by more than $14,000, to $142,811.  The move was made retroactive to July 1, 2008, to ensure Travous receives increased benefits when he retires June 30.

The news has rankled some parks employees, who are bracing for possible layoffs when the board considers closing parks later this month.  Most state employees received raises of 2% or less over the past four years.  Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said salary increases for top officials can make it more difficult to convince the Legislature that more funds are needed for park operating expenses.  “Throwing that into the mix kind of undercuts the message,” she said.  “When you’re talking about laying people off and furloughing people and closing parks, everyone is going to have to do their part.  So it does not seem like a good time.” 

Board Chairman Reese Woodling said Travous approached him about a raise last year, noting that he had not received a salary increase since 2004.  Woodling, who helped hire Travous, said Travous has a distinguished record of service and deserved a raise.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Arizona state park closures delayed

[Source: Casey Newton, Arizona Republic] — The closure of eight state parks was delayed Tuesday as the Arizona State Parks Board asked to be given more alternatives to consider.  The board voted unanimously to ask parks director Ken Travous and his staff to consider closing parks seasonally, furloughs for employees, and other reductions in operating expenses in an effort to spare the parks targeted for closing.  “I’d like to see a bigger menu,” said Mark Winkelman, a member of the board and the Arizona State Land Commissioner.  “We need to come up with some options instead of (just taking) one approach.”

The board will meet again Feb. 20, when it is scheduled to make a final decision.  The parks up for closure are: Fort Verde State Historic Park in Camp Verde; Homolovi Ruins State Park in Winslow; Lyman Lake State Park in Springerville; McFarland State Historic Park in Florence; Oracle State Park in Oracle; Riordan Mansion State Historic Park in Flagstaff; Tubac Presidio State Historic Park in Tubac; and Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park.

About 20 people from around the state spoke out during a Tuesday morning meeting that lasted more than three hours.  In all cases, speakers urged the board to resist closing the parks and seek alternatives to closing a 2009 budget deficit estimated at $650,000.  “We must be vigilant in saving our few remaining historic buildings as a legacy for our future generations,” said Shifra Lea Boehlje, a volunteer at Fort Verde.  “If we don’t preserve these buildings and artifacts, we will be destroying the only remaining monuments devoted to the memory of those soldiers who gave their lives for this great state.”

Despite residents’ cries, Travous was not optimistic that park closings could be avoided. “We need to make up a lot of money real fast,” said Travous, who has worked at the parks department since 1986. “We can chip around the edges, but the fact is that we’re out of time.”