State Parks To Cut 161 Jobs
Reduced staffing at state parks will result in a seasonal reduction in hours and seasonal closures at state parks. This year, Federation Forest State Park is closed during the winter. Photo by Alan Bauer.
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission met yesterday in Olympia to decide how to handle a likely 2011-2013 budget deficit of roughly $11 million. That's a daunting number, primarily made up of projected Discover Pass shortfall. In order to balance its budget the Commission voted unanimously on budget reductions and reserve level changes that will likely result in the loss of 161 jobs at the agency.
The cuts represent 121 field staff, 15 headquarters staff and 25 regional positions, but no park closures at this time. For hikers, these cuts will felt in a number of ways: through reduced hours and seasonal staffing at certain parks; less park maintenance on trails and also a reduced ability to manage volunteer maintenance; reduced garbage and other maintenance services; and more.
What's more, cuts of this magnitude have a ripple effect across the economy, since many people who work at State Park units live in local, rural communities where they purchase goods and buy houses, serve on PTAs and school boards and in general weave themselves into the fabric of life in these areas.
The Commission made a difficult choice with this vote (see meeting notes here). They could either close parks or reduce staffing. They chose to reduce staff for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that a shuttered park still costs money. The agency is on the hook for the property and is accountable to the general public and to the park's neighbors for what happens there. Additionally, and perhaps most important, is the fact the many people bought Discover Passes with the assumption that parks would not close. The Commission chose to honor that public contribution.
As an aside, I want to challenge what I see as an air of defeatism among parks staff and commissioners. They seem to believe that the legislature wants to take them off the general fund entirely and convert them to a fee-for-service agency. However, in all my many conversations with legislators as WTA's policy staffer, I have yet to speak with one who wants the agency to fend for itself. The State Parks general fund appropriation of $17 million this biennium is small by historical standards. But the state is suffering, and the existence of the Discover Pass gave the legislature more comfort with cutting their general fund appropriation.
The legislature is clear that State Parks needs a mix of dedicated revenue like the Discover Pass, camping and other activity fees and appropriated dollars. This anomalous biennial budget should not be construed to represent the future of State Park funding.