State parks are seeking legislative approval to use fees for general operations and maintenance. Parks generate about two million dollars per year, but right now that money can only be used for capital construction and interpretation.
Director of State Parks and Cultural Resources, Milward Simpson, says funding for his agency is like a three-legged stool that’s getting wobbly.
“We have our capital construction and major maintenance, we have our interpretation and programming leg of the stool, and we have our O&M, or operations and maintenance leg. And the analogy is that that leg of the stool is getting shorter and shorter as costs go up and the budget has been diminishing due to budget cuts,” says Simpson. “What this would allow us to do is shore up that important leg of the table.”
Simpson adds that park visitation increased 16 percent from 2008 to 2010, but the budget for operations and maintenance keeps diminishing.
With the proposed funding scheme, “there will be less money available for capital construction and major maintenance within the parks, it’ll take a little bit longer to get certain facilities constructed and any major maintenance done,” Simpson says. “But given the funding situation for state parks, we feel that the important investment right now is in the [operations and maintenance] that allows our visitors to have access to the park and to have a positive experience.”
This week, the legislative Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife, and Cultural Resources Committee approved a bill that would allow up to 25 percent of fee proceeds to be used for operations and maintenance. The bill will be taken up for consideration during the 2014 budget session.