Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Paying to keep up the parks

One of the other items that the Joint Finance Committee will discuss tomorrow involves freeing up funds to pay for a variety of projects in Wisconsin state parks over the next year. These projects had originally been requested for the 2017-19 budget, but didn't survive the cut.
2017 Act 59 created a continuing appropriation from parks account revenues [(20.370(7)(hu)] and provided $1,000,000 in fiscal year 2017-18 and $1,000,000 in fiscal year 2018-19 in one-time funding for development and maintenance activities on state park properties. Under the request, an additional $2.2 million would transfer in the 2017-18 fiscal year from the balance of the parks account to the appropriation to be used for parks infrastructure projects including: (a) $1,308,600 to replace 15 four-unit vault toilets in campgrounds and high-use areas; (b) $239,700 for replacement of failing water lines, day-use flush toilet building upgrades, and replacement of indoor group camping siding at Wyalusing State Park; (c) $174,400 for projects at Perrot State Park, including adding an ADA-accessible restroom to a family campground area and renovating plumbing at various shower buildings; (d) $164,900 for repairs and upgrades to the Weborg Shelter at Peninsula State Park; (e) $96,400 for improvements to beach and swimming areas at Richard Bong State Recreation Area; (f) $69,700 to renovate toilet/shower buildings at Brunet Island State Park; (g) $42,600 for roof repair and reshingling at Lake Wissota State Park; (h) $32,900 to establish water supply at a shelter and playground area at Merrick State Park; and (i) $60,000 for contingency funding. While the Department's request originally included $340,000 to replace an existing high-voltage distribution system at Yellowstone Lake State Park, updated information provided by the Department includes this project as funded from general fund-supported bonding at a lower estimated cost.
This request deals with that $2.2 million, which needs JFC approval before the projects can get underway and be paid for.

You may remember that the GOP-run Legislature has removed all taxpayer-funded support from state parks in recent years, which means that the parks have to rely on paid admissions and other sources of funds. What the DNR is arguing with this request is that not only do they have enough money to spend this extra $2.2 million to improve the parks, but that the amenities to be added would make the parks and campsites more attractive, and thus it would let them raise more revenue.
State park admission and camping fees were raised in each of the last two biennial budgets to support parks operations with the elimination of GPR [General Tax] funding. It could be argued that the parks account is an operating fund and should be utilized minimally for capital development projects, if at all. However, 2017 Act 59 provided $1 million in each year of the biennium on a one-time basis, and the $2.2 million in requested funds would also be provided on a one-time basis and be available for expenditure until exhausted. Further, the Department argues these projects are critical to protecting visitor health and safety and should be completed during the 2017-19 biennium. Currently, the parks account is estimated to have an available June 30, 2019, balance of over $10 million. While sufficient funds are available in the balance of the account to support the request of one-time funds, an increase in ongoing expenditure authority exceeding $1.5 million annually could cause the account to have a structural imbalance by which authorized expenditures exceed anticipated revenues.

As noted, 2017 Act 59 provides $2 million from the balance of the parks account for parks infrastructure projects. DNR indicates this funding will be used for campsite electrification and various projects including signage, fire rings, picnic tables, parking lot expansion, and building repairs at Devil's Lake, Peninsula, and other state park properties as shown in the attachment. DNR reports these projects are expected to be presented to the Building Commission in the near future. However, the appropriation language states that these funds are provided "for parks development and maintenance on state parks property." This language is broad enough to encompass the projects for which the Department is requesting the $2.2 million in additional funds from the parks account balance. Further, some would argue parks infrastructure projects deemed critical should be addressed before additional amenities, such as electricity, are added. On the other hand, 2017 Act 59 also increased the statutory cap on the percentage of campsites in state parks that may be electrified from 30% to 35% and increased the nightly fee for electric campsites at five high-demand parks from $10 to $15. Additional electrified campsites would be expected to provide additional ongoing revenue to the parks account.

Yes, you will still be able to do this in 2018.

This all sounds very good, and moving some deferred projects up the chain sounds like a good move for the short and long terms. But if the horrid April weather holds down visitors to state parks for this year, those remaining funds could be depleted quickly, with not much left over for future years. It's not camping season yet, but it's coming up fast, and those 30 inches on the ground in the Northwoods won't go away all at once.

And given that Walker and the WisGOPs also pulled a stunt in the last budget where they took State Forestry operations off of the property tax, and filled it in with $181 million of tax dollars Those funds might not be available in 2019, especially after the Walker/WisGOP tax-cut-and-spending spree of the last 2 months.

No comments:

Post a Comment