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State parks expecting 20 percent reduction

State parks expecting 20 percent reduction

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
March 8, 2010

The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR) will need to find a new way of doing business with significantly less state support. Idaho parks will see 20 percent less money in the next budget set by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee Monday. That includes a 79 percent reduction in state general fund support.

Parks director Nancy Merrill said the reduction doesn't surprise her. “That’s the plan we set our goals to,” she said. “That’s what we’ll have to do with.” Gov. Butch Otter recommended merging parks with the Department of Lands in his state budget address in January, but switched to a different set of reforms that would retain the parks department and keep parks open. The budget will eliminate 25 jobs in IDPR and encourage the department to increase park fees and donations.

“It makes every attempt to do as little harm to the parks department as possible,” said Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle.

Like many other agency budgets set this year, funding for parks would decrease, but flexibility in spending that money would increase. For IDPR, that includes the ability to shift money between personnel and maintenance costs, as well as spending any unanticipated donations. “That flexibility to be able to adjust to the market as the revenues come in is really important to us,” Merrill said.

“They need the flexibility,” said Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum. She said it could be difficult for IDPR to become self-sufficient, but that IDPR still working on its business plan to reach that goal. One step forward, according to Jaquet, would be improving its technology for collecting park fees. “There are ways to capture revenue that have not been captured in the past,” she said. That could mean installing mechanical arms blocking entrances or exits to state parks to require park passes, or selling annual park passes on IDPR’s website. “I just think everybody needs to buy a pass. There’s only 12,000 passes that have been sold.” Annual passes currently cost $35, but Merrill said that will likely rise to $40 in January. She had said that the cost of an annual pass could rise to $45.

Merrill said that the parks board is still working on its revised business plan, and that the board could approve it at a meeting in May. The total parks budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in July, would be $30.4 million. General fund dollars for parks would drop 79.4 percent from $6.7 million to $1.39 million. Most of the parks budget, $23 million, comes from dedicated funds, including park entrance fees.

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