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Idaho Park Director Gives Legislature Her Budget Pitch

Green squares mark the locations of Idaho's 30 state parks.

Idaho Department of Parks & Recreation Director chief Nancy Merrill gave her budget pitch to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee today (Jan. 30) in Boise, the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review reported.

She said volunteers are contributing more than 86,000 hours to the park system each year; overnight camping is up 1.07 percent and visitation is up 8 percent, despite drops in staffing and state funding; surveys also show increasing customer satisfaction, from 89 percent in 2010 to 94 percent in 2011, she reported.

All 30 state parks remain open.

The parks system requested four new positions for next year, including a senior IT systems technician who would be funded from state general funds; most of Idaho's parks funding now comes from dedicated funds, including fees, fuel taxes, and boat and RV registrations. Gov. Butch Otter didn't recommend the new positions. The parks department's budget request, with the $63,500 for the IT systems technician, amounted to a 101.4 percent increase in state general funds for next year, and a decrease in total funds of 1.6 percent. The governor's recommendation: A 0.4 percent increase in general funds to $1.3 million, and a 6 percent drop in total funds.

Merrill said the parks system is putting its hopes into new ways of generating revenue, including “parks passport” legislation, modeled after a Michigan program, that would give Idaho motorists a chance to buy an annual passport to state parks for a $10 fee when they register their cars. She told lawmakers, “We are seeking sustainability by reinventing ourselves and moving forward.”

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