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Parks Advisory Committee Urges $85 Million Increase
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas State Parks Advisory Committee Chairman and former state senator John Montford today told the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission his committee recommends allocating the entire amount of state sporting goods sales tax to parks, a move which would effectively increase funding by about $85 million per year if adopted by the Texas Legislature.
Montford briefed the commission on the final report from the advisory committee, which was appointed by commission Chairman Joseph Fitzsimons in February.*
“It will not be enough to simply repair or restore the park resources and historic sites that have fallen into disrepair due to budget cuts,” Fitzsimons said. “In the long run, it is equally important to build a funding structure that allows us to meet the challenges of a growing state. We now have specific recommendations to do so, thanks to Chairman Montford and the committee members who have given their time and credibility to this cause.”
“It is clear to this committee that the financial problems facing our Texas park system must be addressed now,” Montford said. “Funding for state parks is an investment in economic, personal health and cultural benefits for the citizens of Texas. Increased park investment can be provided from the existing sporting goods tax that is paid by the users of the park system, which will rise with increased use of the system.”
The advisory committee report offers six main recommendations, recapped verbatim below.
- “The Legislature should appropriate all revenues generated by the Sporting Goods Sales Tax as well as other user fees and taxes presently directed to the Parks system and to the maximum extent possible, those funds should be applied to the purposes intended.”
- “The state should issue all bonds already approved by voters to provide for state park repairs and maintenance.”
- “The state should pursue a major program of acquisition and development of new parks as well as the enhancement of existing parks.”
- “Texas Parks and Wildlife should continue to transfer existing units of the park system to local governments or other entities where appropriate. Site transfers should not take place except where there is a significant savings to the State of Texas and where appropriate requirements and restrictions are implemented for future uses of the site.”
- “Texas Parks & Wildlife Department should work with the Legislature, non-profit organizations and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation to maximize and facilitate donations of private lands and dollars and identify and remove statutory and administrative hurdles to such donations.”
- “Texas Parks and Wildlife should continue and increase its emphasis on collaborative public-private partnerships. Projects such as Government Canyon State Natural Area, and the friends groups at State Historic Sites such as Washington-on-the Brazos and Casa Navarro in San Antonio, should serve as models for the Department.”
The advisory committee identified specific park system needs, saying its recommendations “will deliver quality, but not extravagant, services and facilities, but will require significant increases above current funding levels.” Below is a rundown of recommendations for additional funding, verbatim from the committee report.
- “Major Repairs $25 million — The currently identified backlog of facility repair needs made necessary by the wear occasioned by millions of visitors in state parks is approximately $431 million. In order to keep pace with necessary renovations a dependable annual funding source for major repairs is necessary. The committee recommends that $25 million annually be directed to major repairs in addition to the $4 million recommended for minor repair.”
- “Human Resources $7.1 million — The committee recommends an additional 159 classified staff and 70.5 hourly FTEs be added to the state park system. Ninety-two of these classified positions are restorations of jobs eliminated in recent years. This recommendation would be a net increase of 67 positions across the state.”
- “Operating Funds $5.7 million — As additional staff is added (and inflation taken into account), there will be an increased need for maintenance materials such as paint and repair parts for park infrastructure, as well as fuel and lubricants for work vehicles. The cost of additional supplies and materials needed by the system is estimated to be $5,705,121.”
- “Minor Repairs $4 million — There are nearly 4000 structures as well as trails, water systems and infrastructure in state parks and currently only $1.5 million available annually to accomplish routine cyclic maintenance and repairs such as painting, fixture replacement and roofing repairs. Much of the park system infrastructure, such as the many buildings constructed by the CCC and WPA are now cultural resources in their own right, and must be preserved as part of our state’s heritage.”
- “Department Support $2 million — During the same period that positions have been eliminated in state parks, positions have been eliminated in other divisions that support state parks, including infrastructure, communications and administrative resources. This hampers the ability of these divisions to market parks, support repair projects, and perform administrative duties. With additional field staff added, minor repair projects undertaken and other operational increases, other support divisions within the agency will incur increased workloads.”
- “Equipment $6.7 million — There is a critical need to replace aging and worn out equipment in the park system. The vast majority of state parks vehicles do not meet state standards for replacement. Other equipment also far exceeds normal replacement cycles. Sensible asset management dictates that equipment should be replaced on a scheduled basis as it reaches the end of expected service.”
- “Land Acquisition and Park Development $15 million — The population of the state of Texas is growing at a rapid pace, yet there has not been a major acquisition and development financing package for state parks undertaken since 1967. The committee believes that $15 million annually should be made available for the acquisition and development of new state parks and for additions of acreage and additional facilities in existing parks. These funds must be allowed to carry over from one fiscal year to the next to allow for the inevitable fluctuations of expenditures for both land purchases and development costs.”
- “Local Park Grants $20 million — The Texas Recreation and Park Account, commonly known as the local grant program, has suffered the bulk of reductions in appropriations from the sporting goods tax in recent years, falling from $15.5 million to about $5 million in the current biennium. The committee recommends that the amount of the SGT dedicated to the TRPA be increased from $5 million to $25 million.”
Asked about political support for implementing committee recommendations in the upcoming Texas legislative session, Montford had this to say:
“Will this objective be easy? No. The legislature has to balance a number of other priorities. But there is growing support for a substantial and sustainable source of funding for parks, especially when we show that park funding is an investment which yields valuable returns. Several other factors are generating positive momentum. Voter referenda, such as Proposition 8, show people are willing to pay for our parks. Virtually every major Texas newspaper in recent months has devoted either editorial or column space to supporting our state parks. The time for action is now.”
The advisory committee report, plus background information on the sporting goods sales tax and the economic benefits of state parks, is on the TPWD Web site.
* Correction, Aug. 29, 2006: The original version of the news release said the committee was appointed in April. It was appointed in February and held its first meeting in April. (Return to corrected item.)
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