Wyoming State Parks Face 8% Cut for FY '14

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August 2, 2012 by   - () Leave a Comment

Possible budget cuts could reduce seasonal staff and strip operations to bare-bones levels at several of Wyoming's state parks.

Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources officials briefed lawmakers Wednesday (Aug. 1) on their plan to cut the department's standard budget by 8 percent for fiscal year 2014, the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle reported.

Gov. Matt Mead directed most state agencies to create the proposals because of fears that low natural gas prices and other dismal revenues will cause a budget shortfall.

Milward Simpson, the director of the department, told the Legislature’s Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee that his proposal would cut a total of $1.29 million from the general fund budget.

This would include a:

  • $243,976 reduction that would cut 10 to 20 seasonal employees who perform maintenance, fee-booth operations and law enforcement services at various state parks.
  • $277,132 reduction that would bring operations and services to a minimal level of management at Hawk Springs State Recreation Area, Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site, Fort Fetterman State Historic Site and Fort Fred Steele State Historic Site.
  • $158,500 reduction to the Wyoming Arts Council, which would prevent it from awarding grants to many nonprofits.
  • $344,273 reduction by eliminating three currently vacant positions.

Simpson said the cuts allow the department to continue carrying out its core functions, since no parks or sites would be fully closed.

However, he said they are “difficult” cuts that could affect the number of parks visitors, the amount of money the parks take in from visitor fees and the economic impact of cities and towns that depend on the parks for tourism.

“We are proposing this because we feel we can continue to operate even with these cuts,” Simpson said. “But there will be consequences.”

The legislative committee voted to recommend the cuts that the department proposed. The plan will now be forwarded to the Joint Appropriations Committee for its review.

However, several legislators argued the cuts are too severe and that the Legislature should either consider not applying the entire 8 percent cut to the department or have the department cut more administrative positions so ground-level services would be not as affected.

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, called the cuts “draconian” and argued that the department should close one park instead of reducing services statewide.

“I’m very concerned about the somewhat across-the-board cuts to state parks,” she said. “The amount of money, the loss of (seasonal workers), and the reductions in operations and maintenance budgets are really going to be detrimental to our state parks.”

However, Connolly’s proposal to close Hot Springs State Park as a replacement for other cuts was rejected by the rest of the committee.

Rep. Del McOmie, R-Lander, who co-chairs the committee, added he too is concerned that the cuts would result in fewer people paying to use the parks, which could create more budget problems for the department.

“The more we staff these places and the better we make them, the more the public will use them,” he said. “So it’s a bit of a Catch-22.”

Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, the other co-chairman, said there will still be many opportunities for legislators to adjust the proposal if the 8 percent budget cuts are need.

He said lawmakers can individually lobby the Joint Appropriations Committee to make changes or wait for the 2013 legislative session to make amendments to the proposal if it makes it into the budget bill.

What’s next?

The Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee’s recommendations will be forwarded to the Joint Appropriations Committee. The JAC and Gov. Mead will present budget plans in advance of the 2013 legislative session to determine if cuts need to be applied for the upcoming supplemental budget.

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