Parks asked to trim budgets
By ANN MARIE FRENCH , The Saratogian
A Saratoga Spa State Park groundskeeper mows the grass near the Lincoln Baths.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - The Saratoga-Capital District region of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has been asked to trim an additional 7 percent from its current budget in addition to the 3 percent the governor had asked of all departments.
Alane Chinian, the regional director, said all 11 regions have been asked to trim their costs in this year's budget even as they are submitting their proposed 2009-2010 budgets. The announcement came Wednesday morning at the quarterly meeting of the Saratoga-Capital District State Park, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commission. The commission voted to approve the proposed $9.9 million state operations budget request presented by Chinian.
"There are no capital costs in this budget. This is purely just trying to keep the doors open," said Heather Mabee, chairperson of the commission. The operational budget does not provide money for building renovations or expansion of services. Ten parks and seven historic sites are located within the region, which includes all of Saratoga County and all or part of seven other counties.
To develop the proposed budget, Chinian said the group did what it has always done - use the current fiscal year base and add in fixed cost increases and contractual increases.
The current fiscal year base is $9,452,600 and Chinian said the figure includes the 3 percent in cuts already completed. It does not, however, reflect the additional 7 percent of cuts the region is currently making.
"It has really been hurting us," said Chinian. She said many of the cuts are coming from not replacing people who are retiring or leaving their positions. The decision not to fill vacant positions is not one Chinian made voluntarily but is a result of a statewide hiring freeze, which went into effect over the summer. To make the necessary cuts, Chinian said other changes will take place.
"There will be more people let go," she said. "Temporary and seasonal staff will be let go early."
While the discussion of closing some of the parks in the region was broached, Chinian said to do so may prove to be more expensive than keeping them open. Currently, a number of park managers are responsible for the operation of multiple parks and in some cases there is no other staff in place to do the work if those managers were to retire or move into other positions.
"I think the big fear is there is a perception we're fat," Chinian said. "We've been operating a lean budget for years. There is going to be an impact."
The chairpersons of each region met in July and one topic of discussion centered on private fundraising for the state park system in anticipation of limited funding from the state. Mabee said the state has never utilized private fundraising but acknowledged that many of the regions have volunteer, non-profit programs they are affiliated with that do seek out private funding.
"We just have so much in our capital budget needs," she said. "There is $700 million across the state that needs to be done today."
While talks of fundraising are in their infant stages, she said the statewide initiative would be executed on a regional level. More information is expected at the commission's December or March meetings.