STATE PARKS -- The Washington Parks and Recreation Commisison released a statement to the media Wednesday afternoon regarding its plans to reduce expenses by about $11 million.
About 160 jobs are at risk among the agency's 516 full-time employees.
Read on for the full statement.
OLYMPIA – Dec. 7, 2011 – The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission Tuesday approved a budget reduction approach to close a revenue gap of approximately $11 million in the current biennium, while keeping state parks open.
In a special meeting, the Commission approved a reduction approach that will result in a shift of operations to a more seasonal focus. In order to change the operating structure, approximately 160 employees are receiving notification that their jobs are at risk or expected to change significantly. Some of this will result in loss of jobs, other employees will shift into new job classifications or may shift to seasonal employment as the agency moves to ensure that staffing levels remain at current levels during the high-visitation summer months. The goal is to keep customer service in place in order to continue building Discover Pass sales, while the agency also works on a longer-term shift to a new business model reliant upon new revenue sources, partnerships and marketing.
The Commission also agreed that the agency should reduce its reserve fund from $12 million to $8 million – two months of operating expenses – in order to mitigate the number of staffing cuts and changes needed to get through the current biennium. The reduction effort also must cover the costs of associated benefit cash-outs and unemployment payments.
Reductions are being made at field, region and headquarters levels, with most of the changes happening at the field and region levels. Since 2008, when the economic recession began, State Parks has 20 percent fewer headquarters staff, 20 percent fewer region staff and 6 percent fewer field staff as the result of earlier reductions. Most of the new reductions will happen at field and region levels, though restructuring will happen throughout the agency. Besides resulting in a more seasonal field operation, the current reductions also will result in a flattened management structure.
The goal is to live within budget, keep parks open and continue to build support for the Discover Pass. The Discover Pass was launched in July to replace general fund tax dollars no longer available to operate state recreation lands. The new program yielded $7.2 million in total sales its first four months. Sales were projected at $65 million ($54 million for State Parks) over the course of the current 24-month budget cycle, which runs through June 30, 2013.
For State Parks, success with the Discover Pass is now essential. Since 2007, State Parks has moved from 66 percent ($98.8 million) support from general fund to 12 percent ($17.2 million) in the 2011-13 biennium. The Discover Pass was intended to make up the loss of those funds for basic operations. The three agencies are working closely together to continue implementation, public education and outreach, but the program is still new and needs time to gain momentum, public support and participation. Legislation is proposed to allow the pass to be transferred between two vehicles, a change that a recent survey indicates will build public participation and help the agencies come closer to meeting revenue projections.
In the meantime, State Parks must balance its budget. Commissioners and agency leadership on Tuesday expressed that they are not happy with the situation but unanimously approved the reduction approach as a necessary move to keep the park system operating short term while continuing to build support for the Discover Pass.
“Though it doesn’t solve all our problems, we are confident that the Discover Pass is going to bring in more revenue in the second year than it did in the first,” said Don Hoch, State Parks director. “We’re one of a very few states that has not had a user fee, and from the experience of others states, we know that a new program like the Discover Pass takes time. State Parks is not happy to be making these changes and reductions. We know we have to live within our budget. We’re doing our best to preserve public service while we get through this challenge now so we can keep working to ensure a healthy park system in the future.”
The annual Discover Pass costs $30, and provides access to nearly 7 million acres of state-managed recreation lands operated by State Parks, Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and Department of Natural Resources. For more information about the pass, locations where it is required, where to buy it and certain exemptions, visit www.discoverpass.wa.gov.