Auditors Report On State Parks Reinforces Need For Funding

Posted in 80th Legislature, Around The State at 9:50 am by wcnews

That’s what I take from the Startlegram article, Agency lost fees, inflated visit data, and the report. The title of the article helps reinforce the “startle” in Starlegram. Texas Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Robert L. Cook gives the other side.

Cook took exception to the suggestion that the agency lost millions of dollars in entrance fees.

He noted that visitation estimates dropped from more than 20 million in 2003 to less than 10 million in 2006, and at the same time receipts increased from $22.4 million to $33.1 million.

“While there is a relationship between visitation estimates and revenue collected, there are many variables that come into play — these variables include unpaid visits that take place after hours or in places we are not currently staffed to collect fees,” he said in a prepared response to the report.

“We believe that improving documentation of state park visitation will demonstrate that we did not ‘lose’ $16 million in potential entrance fees.”

The report points to deficiencies at our state parks, many of which are caused by the “flat” funding it’s received in recent years.

In a report issued Monday, the State Auditor’s Office cites several findings about the operations of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department:The department lacks adequate controls to ensure that park visitation data and revenue reporting for individual state parks are accurate

There are significant deficiencies in the department’s budgeting process that hinder its ability to ensure that resources are allocated in a reasonable manner

Financial control weaknesses have led the department to underestimate its revenue and to produce inaccurate financial reports

The department “does not have an effective marketing strategy and tools to promote visitation.”

The fear is that this report will be used to justify the continued transfer of money, via the sporting goods tax, away from our state parks because of this “supposed” mismanagement.

Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, said the findings should not deter lawmakers from providing full funding for parks. His group and other parks advocates have called for reallocating all money from the sporting goods tax to Texas parks.

That would lead to about a $90 million annual increase. But he noted House budget writers have included only about a quarter of that amount in the current version of spending legislation.

Although the process is still in an early phase, he said the inclusion of only about $23 million in new money could portend a bad legislative session for Texas parks.

“The report should be taken seriously, but it should not stand in the way of full funding for the agency and for our parks,” he said.

If we fully fund our state parks they will be able to get all the problems that came up in this audit fixed. It’s the neglect of our state parks that have allowed them to rot and decay, literally, and it needs to stop this session. Call your elected representatives today about Rep. Harvey Hilderbran’s bill to fix this, HB 12. Especially any who’s members are on the Culture, Recreation, & Tourism Committee, and urge them to give the bill a hearing and soon. (Anyone in the Austin area Rep.’s Dukes and Howard are on that committee).

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