JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
AN ACT CONCERNING THE FISCAL SUSTAINABILITY OF STATE PARKS.
Joint Favorable Substitute
SPONSORS OF BILL:
Representative Joseph Gresko, 121st District
REASONS FOR BILL:
In recognition of the importance of Connecticut's State parks to the quality of life, there is a strong desire to provide adequate funding for their maintenance and operation. This bill requires the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to study and report on the advisability of a per person fee structure for such park admissions that would provide a stable and adequate source of funds while remaining competitive with surrounding states.
-Requires DEEP to issue a request for information for the public, statewide business associations, chambers of commerce and trade associations on the expansion of concessions, services or recreational amenities at state parks and report back to the legislature.
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
Representative Mary Mushinsky, 85th District Representative Mushinsky supports the bill in concept but is concerned that our state parks have seen a decrease in paid attendance following fee increases in FY10, which coincides with the time at which revenue generated through parking, admission, and camping fees was diverted to the state's General Fund. She states that lmost all other states have funding mechanisms allowing them to retain either all or a portion of the revenue they generate.
Recommendations of the legislature's Program Review and Investigations Committee (PRI), on which Rep Mushinsky serves as Co-Chair include:
● A portion of the proceeds from renting cabins located within state parks or forests should be deposited annually within a Maintenance, Repair, and Improvement account for the specific park where such cabin(s) is located.
● DEEP field personnel should be allowed to retain some portion of any savings within the same park unit and/or district.
● Between one quarter and one half of revenue generated in state parks should be appropriated biennially to the Parks Division, while linked to accountability measures.
● The Parks Division should create a plan for use of park-generated revenue that balances the distribution of park revenue-based funds among the park or park units that generated the revenue and the needs of the entire system of parks.
Eileen Grant, Friends of CT State Parks, Board of Directors: Ms. Grant testified that the bill is very well intentioned in that it seeks ways to enhance needed park revenues, but there are a number of problems that would result from a per person fee structure at parks. This includes liability issues, discouraging attendance among economically disadvantaged families, and increased traffic delays.
-Enact a $5 opt-out Park donation option on car registration renewals, and a total reform the Concessions award process.
-Implement a discount rather than a free lifetime pass to senior citizens at age 65.
-Establish a dedicated non-lapsing State Parks Sustainability Account to avoid having fees swept into the General Fund in 2010.
David and Cate Rauch, Meriden: The Rauch family testified that UConn's Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis (CCEA) found that outdoor activities on state lands have an economic benefit of more than $1 billion a year and 9,000 jobs, while generating $38 in economic activity for every dollar the state spends on the state park system. She therefore supports a per-person admission fee to state parks that will leave the state competitive with surrounding states while generating increased revenues for maintenance and operation.
Chris & Kelly Callahan, Waterford: The Callahans cite the UCONN CCEA study that documents the economic benefit of CT's state parks and supports the concept of a per person admission fee.
Sidney Van Zandt, Groton: Ms. Van Zandt supports the bill because State funding has been diminished over past years and the thousands of acres of State of parks and forests have suffered from inadequate maintenance.
Starr Sayres, East Haddam: Ms. Sayres stated her support for the establishment of a sustainability fund for the maintenance of the parks with adequate revenues to fund it. Increasing admission fees guided by those set in surrounding states, is a protective and prudent solution to the current underfunding.
Michelle Kiley, West Hartford Resident: Ms. Kiley supports the concept of a per person admission fee.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
Pamela Aey Adams, Friends of CT State Parks: Ms. Adams states that a per person admission fee would create a greater liability for the parks and increase the number of lawsuits as the “Landowner Liability For Recreational Use Land Statute” protections would no longer apply.
● Bidding out concessions to successful business men and women could return the concessions to profit making enterprises for both the parks and businesses.
● Installing “Iron Rangers” to collect a minimal, whole dollar fee ranging from $1 to $5 at parks where mid-week attendance is so minimal that staff cannot be justified.
● Charging a nominal fee for senior citizens' lifetime passes (vs. the current free passes) would recoup the expenses of printing, processing and mailing and still provide a lifetime's worth on enjoyment to our older citizens.
● Building additional cabins to be rented by campers which are currently in very high demand.
● Offering a $5 opt-out donation attached to Motor Vehicle Registrations, introduced in 2015, this option would provide a dependable source of revenues.
● Dedicating revenue from a 5 cent charge for plastic bags and/or an increase in the returnable bottles and cans.
Reported by: Jane Dauphinais