Facing a budget shortfall that’s anywhere from $12 billion to $27 billion, legislators in the Texas House and Senate are looking to make deep cuts in a wide range of state-funded programs. The Legislative Budget Board released budget proposals that recommend cutting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department funding by 25 percent. As part of the reduction, the LBB suggested transferring seven state parks to local governments, which have their own budget shortfalls.
Blanco State Park is one of the parks on the list, along with Sebastopol House State Historic Park, Daingerfield State Park, Lake Casa Blanca International State Park, Lockhart State Park, Big Spring State Park and the Wyler Aerial Tramway in El Paso.
The budget is still in the early stages. Brent Leisure, Director of State Parks, says the department is speaking with Texas Senate and House members whose districts contain those seven parks.
“The Legislative Budget Board put together the budget and impacts aren’t known,” Leisure says. “Before we assess impacts, we determine the viability of this recommendation. We don’t expect that many communities will say, ‘Yes, we’ll take over stewardship of these parks.’ Local communities are experiencing the same difficulties.” TPWD employees are exploring those avenues, and speaking with the legislative membership; local governments have not yet been contacted for input.
Legislators plan to cut funding for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department by $162 million for 2012 and 2013. TPWD is analyzing the impact of the budget numbers. In addition to transferring seven parks, the recommendations also include closure of two state park regional offices, reductions in support programs, eliminations in funding for capital, and reduction by half in the first year of the minor repair program. The minor repair program dollars are very important to maintain the facilities, Leisure says, and to keep small repairs from growing into expensive repairs.
“We didn’t have any allusions that we would not be affected by cuts,” the director adds. Texas Parks and Wildlife, along with the State Parks, want to contribute to the cause, and are studying the bill very closely to determine what can be done. The department wants to maximize the number of Texans who can visit parks while continuing to care for the natural and cultural resources.
Leisure says it’s not being suggested that any park might be closed or reduced. The legislature is a long way from an approved and signed budget, which should be complete by the end of May. “It’s really important, each step along the way,” Leisure says, “to offer true and real impacts to the discussions so the legislature can be completely informed and make the best possible decision.”
In a September 2010 city council meeting, park manager Michael Young gave a presentation on the “State of the State Park,” reporting that 2010 might be the year that the park could be self-sustaining. He noted that the park does not receive city or county tax monies. He expressed fear that a state budget deficit will affect parks, sees “troubled years on the horizon for state agencies,” and urged residents to express their support for the park and its funding to their elected state legislators.
Updated numbers from Leisure show that Blanco State Park’s revenues in 2010 were over $346,000. With an operating budget over $400,000, the park is effective at recovering costs, “not entirely, but they’re getting there,” Leisure points out. Over 81,000 people visited the park in 2010, which Leisure also points out are “pretty significant numbers.”
The legislature directed TPWD to perform an independent study two legislative sessions ago. The department was instructed to initiate a study of the parks system and an assessment of state parks to determine whether or not they were of high quality and value; if not, what steps might be taken to raise the quality of the system and individual parks. From that study, the seven parks were identified. TPWD did not suggest that Blanco be put on the list, Leisure notes; the budget board made that recommendation.
“State parks add much to the quality of life of the citizens,” the director says. “They are truly very effective at generating local economies and contribute in a big way to a city the size of Blanco.” That effect goes beyond the local community, to the region and statewide. “State parks have a tremendous influence on a statewide economy. We’re doing everything we can to manage them, maintain them, and be stewards to the resources.”
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