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Fee-Free County Park System Seeks Changes

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July 29, 2013 by   - () Leave a Comment

One of the campsites at West Pinal Park in Arizona. Photo courtesy of www.freecampsites.net

In February, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors in southern Arizona expressed shock and concern that its county parks weren’t generating any revenue.

A discussion at the board’s work session last week was the first step in trying to remedy the problem, the Maricopa Monitor, Casa Grande, reported.

Proposed fees for West Pinal Park, also called Kortsen Park, were discussed. The supervisors hope the fees, in addition to needed park upgrades, can provide the county with revenue and other benefits.

The board was surprised to hear Kent Taylor, county administrator for performance management, announce at February’s meeting the county made no revenue from its five parks in 2012.

“We collected zero in fees last year,” he said.

That didn’t sit well with Anthony Smith, board vice chairman, who said many people were taking advantage of West Pinal Park by parking RVs there overnight without paying anything.

“It’s screaming for a management plan,” he said at the February meeting. “I think there’s a revenue-generating opportunity that’s very much being missed.”

There’s still many steps to go, including public hearings, before any fees will be officially adopted, but proposed fees were presented at last week’s meeting.

Those fees would be $10 each night, with the exception of groups wanting to use the large central ramada. The group rate would include a $35 registration fee, plus $7.50 per unit each night. Day use of the park will remain free.

The proposed fees are lower than what one pays in Maricopa or Pima counties because Pinal doesn’t have the same amenities.

West Pinal Park, located eight miles west of Stanfield, only has “dry” camping, with no access to water, electricity or sewer service.

Smith said campers at West Pinal Park often use the John Wayne RV Ranch, just east of the park, for shower, laundry and restroom facilities and for dumping sewage.

“We want to continue the historic day use (and) make that at no cost,” Smith said by phone Thursday morning. “But we also realize that there’s an opportunity to (not only) improve the park but also to receive revenue for those who are using RVs or staying overnight.”

Taylor crunched some numbers to estimate some of the expected yearly revenue over the course of October to April if fees are implemented.

If the daily fill rate, or park’s capacity, is at 10%, expected revenues are $4,660. At 25%, it would be $11,660, and at 35%, it would be $16,330. If the daily fill rate is 50%, revenues would be $23,330.

Since the board has also discussed improvements to the park, the county would incur some annual expenses. The estimated annual cost for portable toilets is $5,040, and a park host (part-time worker) would cost $8,000.

The county could also have a one-time expense of $4,500 for signage and/or a kiosk and an iron safe that collects camp fees.

Smith said implementing fees for the park could lead to the county purchasing more land within its Open Space and Trails Master Plan. He also said the park can be a boon to economic development, not only through fees, but through campers spending money elsewhere in the county.

“I want to be able to protect some of our natural assets, but I also want to manage them so that they’re the best possible products so we can have that economic development variable,” he said.

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