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Front Page » January 25, 2011 » Emery County News » Audit portrays Green River parks in bad light
Published 1,312 days ago

Audit portrays Green River parks in bad light


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By PATSY STODDARD
Editor

A performance audit of Utah State Parks was recently released by the Legislative Auditor General for the state of Utah. The audit was requested by the Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee to identify strategies for the Utah State Park system to be more self-sufficient and reduce its reliance on the General Fund.

The Utah Division of Parks and Recreations oversees 43 state parks as well as patrolling thousands of miles of OHV and snowmobile trails.

A major expense for the state parks lies in park staff which includes 60 percent of the division's total costs. The audit recommended more part-time employees replace full-time employees as a lot of work at the parks is seasonal in nature. The audit suggested operational modifications to the parks and scaling back operations during the winter months when visitation is low. Some parks suffer from low visitation and have large operating deficits. Unless a strategy can be developed to reduce these deficits, the Legislature could consider permanently closing some of these parks or transferring operations to a local municipality.

The mission of the state parks division is "To enhance the quality of life by preserving and providing natural, cultural, and recreational resources for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations."

Eugene Swalberg is the park ranger for Goblin Valley and Green River State Park which includes the Green River nine hole golf course. The audit reported that Green River State Park exceeded revenues by $562,000. At the Green River Golf Course the state paid a $66 subsidy for each round played based on full costs. Even if overhead is ignored, a subsidy of $43 per round in direct costs at the golf course was needed. Legislators should consider the audit instructed the extent to which taxpayers should subsidize activities such as golfing, camping and other recreational activities. At Green River Golf Course the lowest visitation was recorded with only 5,500 nine hole rounds played in fiscal year 2010.

The audit recommended the division monitor the revenues and expenditures for each state park and report the resulting profit or loss annually to the legislature.

Another audit recommendation was to downsize law enforcement presence in many of the state parks. They write few citations and the division could achieve significant cost reductions by limiting the number of law enforcement officers at the parks. For example, the park manager, assistant park manager, and park ranger assigned to Huntington State Park are all POST certified and also provide law enforcement at Millsite and Scofield State Parks. From Sept. 2009 through Aug. 2010 they issued a total of 28 citations all together. Most of those citations dealt with minor infractions, such as failing to register OHVs and helmet violations. The officers made no arrests and conducted no investigations. The audit questions whether the intensive investment in three law enforcement officers for that area is necessary. On the other hand the four officers at Lake Powell are the most active and the expense for their presence at that facility appears justified.

The audit mentions privatization of state parks as a feasible operational model. There could be cost savings to privatization and the audit recommended a pilot program be introduced to test the feasibility of privatization. The audit stated the four golf courses in the state park system looked like good candidates for privatization including the Green River Golf Course. Green River Golf Course only covers 23 percent of its operating expenses.

The Green River State Park total cost of operations based on fully allocated costs during 2010 was $326,190 and total park revenues were $126,516 for a deficit of $199,674. At the Green River Golf Course total costs were $434,161 and total revenues was $71,315 for a loss of $362,846.

Swalberg was shocked with the audit report indicating their numbers of revenue shortfalls at the park and golf course aren't as high as reported in the audit. Swalberg understands they do operate with a deficit, but feels the contributions of the Green River State Park and Green River Golf Course to the community and the economy of Green River is a big plus. The state parks employ people and in a small rural economy like Green River any job is a good job.

Swalberg said, "About the best thing to happen now is for citizens and elected officials to contact the legislature. I've made some phone calls and have requested others to do the same."

The recreational benefits of the Green River State Park and Green River Golf Course to a small community like Green River are priceless. Any closures of the park and golf course would be a detriment to the local economy through job loss and decline in tourist revenue.

Emery County Economic Development Director Michael McCandless has real concerns with the audit. It seemed to spotlight a few parks and high light their inadequacies when the good wasn't mentioned at all. Goblin Valley State Park operates in the black. McCandless feels the audit didn't supply enough information to be trusted and listed inconsistency in the audit. For example the amount of money Green River Golf Course is listed as losing is more money than the park director is given for a budget.

Emery County has made huge investments in its state parks and all the state parks in the county are important to the economic climate in the county. The Emery County Travel Bureau has recently spent $25,000 for an advertising spot on Delta Airlines which highlights the state parks in the county. Any loss of revenue in the county has a ripple affect on business. Green River Golf Course has been promoted as an excellent place to golf in March and April when other courses might still be covered in snow. These golfers bring revenue to the town with meals and lodging. The golf course has extended the tourist season earlier in the spring and later in the fall as Green River weather most years allows the course to be open year-round. The Green River State Park is a put in and take out point for boaters on the Green River and the docks are constantly used by river runners and outfitters.

McCandless took exception to the parts of the audit which singled out various parks and the golf courses. The audit should be presented in a neutral way and let the numbers and outcomes speak for themselves as comparisons are made.

Mary L. Tullis the division director for the state parks and recreation wrote a letter to the auditor general in response to the audit. They thanked the auditor for his recommendations and will work to implement ideas which will assist the division in improving management and costs. Tullis pointed out that in 2010 during an economic recession, state parks increased their revenue $449,907 for an increase of 3.4 percent and reduced expenses by $727,582. The state parks served more than 4.6 million visitors. In 2009 the Utah State Parks was named as one of the top three state park systems in the country.

State Parks believes that it can implement the suggestions in the audit to reduce general fund appropriations, but doing so will have impacts.

Impacts could include: full and seasonal closures of parks, reduced services and access to state lands, diminished public safety, and limited resource protection. Further impacts may also include reduced restricted funds, higher local unemployment rates and fewer tourism opportunities. taxpayers should subsidize activities such as golfing, camping and other recreational activities. At Green River Golf Course the lowest visitation was recorded with only 5,500 nine hole rounds played in fiscal year 2010.

The audit recommended the division monitor the revenues and expenditures for each state park and report the resulting profit or loss annually to the legislature.

Another audit recommendation was to downsize law enforcement presence in many of the state parks. They write few citations and the division could achieve significant cost reductions by limiting the number of law enforcement officers at the parks. For example, the park manager, assistant park manager, and park ranger assigned to Huntington State Park are all POST certified and also provide law enforcement at Millsite and Scofield State Parks. From Sept. 2009 through Aug. 2010 they issued a total of 28 citations all together. Most of those citations dealt with minor infractions, such as failing to register OHVs and helmet violations. The officers made no arrests and conducted no investigations. The audit questions whether the intensive investment in three law enforcement officers for that area is necessary. On the other hand the four officers at Lake Powell are the most active and the expense for their presence at that facility appears justified.

The audit mentions privatization of state parks as a feasible operational model. There could be cost savings to privatization and the audit recommended a pilot program be introduced to test the feasibility of privatization. The audit stated the four golf courses in the state park system looked like good candidates for privatization including the Green River Golf Course. Green River Golf Course only covers 23 percent of its operating expenses.

The Green River State Park total cost of operations based on fully allocated costs during 2010 was $326,190 and total park revenues were $126,516 for a deficit of $199,674. At the Green River Golf Course total costs were $434,161 and total revenues was $71,315 for a loss of $362,846.

Swalberg was shocked with the audit report indicating their numbers of revenue shortfalls at the park and golf course aren't as high as reported in the audit. Swalberg understands they do operate with a deficit, but feels the contributions of the Green River State Park and Green River Golf Course to the community and the economy of Green River is a big plus. The state parks employ people and in a small rural economy like Green River any job is a good job.

Swalberg said, "About the best thing to happen now is for citizens and elected officials to contact the legislature. I've made some phone calls and have requested others to do the same."

The recreational benefits of the Green River State Park and Green River Golf Course to a small community like Green River are priceless. Any closures of the park and golf course would be a detriment to the local economy through job loss and decline in tourist revenue.

Emery County Economic Development Director Michael McCandless has real concerns with the audit. It seemed to spotlight a few parks and highlight their inadequacies when the good wasn't mentioned at all. Goblin Valley State Park operates in the black. McCandless feels the audit didn't supply enough information to be trusted and listed inconsistency in the audit. For example the amount of money Green River Golf Course is listed as losing is more money than the park director is given for a budget.

Emery County has made huge investments in its state parks and all the state parks in the county are important to the economic climate in the county. The Emery County Travel Bureau has recently spent $25,000 for an advertising spot on Delta Airlines which highlights the state parks in the county. Any loss of revenue in the county has a ripple affect on business. Green River Golf Course has been promoted as an excellent place to golf in March and April when other courses might still be covered in snow. These golfers bring revenue to the town with meals and lodging. The golf course has extended the tourist season earlier in the spring and later in the fall as Green River weather most years allows the course to be open year-round. The Green River State Park is a put in and take out point for boaters on the Green River and the docks are constantly used by river runners and outfitters.

McCandless took exception to the parts of the audit which singled out various parks and the golf courses. The audit should be presented in a neutral way and let the numbers and outcomes speak for themselves as comparisons are made.

Mary L. Tullis the division director for the state parks and recreation wrote a letter to the auditor general in response to the audit. They thanked the auditor for his recommendations and will work to implement ideas which will assist the division in improving management and costs. Tullis pointed out that in 2010 during an economic recession, state parks increased their revenue $449,907 for an increase of 3.4 percent and reduced expenses by $727,582. The state parks served more than 4.6 million visitors. In 2009 the Utah State Parks was named as one of the top three state park systems in the country.

State Parks believes that it can implement the suggestions in the audit to reduce general fund appropriations, but doing so will have impacts.

Impacts could include: full and seasonal closures of parks, reduced services and access to state lands, diminished public safety, and limited resource protection. Further impacts may also include reduced restricted funds, higher local unemployment rates and fewer tourism opportunities.

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