Utah Parks Face 19% Budget Cut
Utah state parks users will see fewer law enforcement patrols, shorter seasons at some parks and campgrounds, and reduced hours in others almost immediately if the agency’s budget is cut 19% as proposed by lawmakers, according to the The Salt Lake Tribune. Salt Lake City.
And agency director Mary Tulius told her parks board Feb. 26 that if budget cuts exceed what is already on the table, some of the state’s 42 parks, which hosted 4.5 million visitors in 2008, would be closed.
“We came up with as much of our cuts as we could without seriously impacting customers,” she said. “This will be a balancing act, from collecting fees, cleaning restrooms and park grounds, and providing public safety and interpretive programs. There will be a little decrease in all of those.”
The agency’s budget was cut by 3% during the Legislature’s September special session and, though final budget numbers are pending, Tulius expects another 16% will trimmed for the 2010 fiscal year by the time the current session ends.
The agency would have to lay off some employees, although Tulius said early retirement incentives would be used wherever possible to reduce staff. Some staffers would be reassigned to different parks and fewer seasonal employees would be hired for the busy summer season.
The biggest change for park visitors would be that heritage parks would be closed one or two days a week. They are currently open daily. The parks’ hours might vary depending on the season and staffing, forcing visitors to contact the agency if they planned to visit.
“You have to look at the parks that cost the most to operate and return the least amount of revenue,” Tulius said.
Other park facilities, such as restrooms with running water and showers, and culinary water at campgrounds, might not be available as early in the year as they have in the past. Campgrounds likely would be open but visitors would need to use portable toilets and bring their own water.
“I have never known state parks to have much fat in their budget. That is the case now. These cuts of almost 19% are going to be deep into the lean meat,” said Marty Ott, a State Parks Board member from Kanab. “Some services people have come to expect simply won’t be offered.”
Because they are funded by a portion of the gas tax, boating and off-highway vehicle programs will be less affected by the cuts. In fact, that tax revenue could help staffing at the reservoir and lake-based state parks.