Thursday, December 11, 2008 5:16 AM EST
By PAUL POST, The Saratogian
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Shorter seasons, reduced hours, staff reductions and fee hikes are among the steps state parks officials are considering to deal with the growing fiscal crisis.
No Saratoga-Capital District Region facilities are targeted for closure, but a further economic decline could prompt such action.
A commission that oversees the region’s 10 state parks and 10 historical sites met Wednesday at Saratoga Spa State Park.
"We’re in such uncharted territory," Assistant Regional Director Robert Kuhn said. "Our desire is to not have to close any of our major facilities. If the economy takes a major step downward between now and April 1 that may have to be reconsidered."
The state’s fiscal year begins April 1 and Gov. David Paterson has asked all departments to make cuts in the face of a multi-billion dollar budget deficit. State parks gets most of its revenue from golf, camping and vehicle use fees, which might all be going up.
"Albany will ultimately decide it," Kuhn said. "Fees are set by the state."
If closures are contemplated, the public should be given plenty of advance notice, so that people have the opportunity keep facilities open with various fund-raising projects, panel member David Golub said.
"It’s going to be hard next year," Commission Chair Heather Mabee said. "It’s going to be very difficult. We’re going to have no extra money for anything. If we have a major repair, it’s going to be very hard to do."
She urged each commission member to initiate a small fund-raising or improvement project at one of the region’s facilities.
"This would help our entire region more than doing one big project," she said.
Panel member Thomas Maggs said that area college groups are always looking for service projects. RPI, Union and Russell Sage students have reportedly done such work.
Regional Director Alane Ball Chinian said that parks will do less lawn mowing in 2009 to save on fuel, labor and equipment maintenance costs. State officials are hoping that gas prices stay at or near current levels. This summer’s fuel costs, at more than $4 per gallon, put a huge strain on groundskeeping budgets.
"We’re looking under every rock," Chinian said. "If we can save $500 doing something a little different, we’ll do it. We’re looking at everything."
Golub said it’s unfair that state parks has to pay for cleanup duties after rock concerts at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Live Nation, which stages events, gets the revenue while the parks system has to pay workers overtime for cleanup. Live Nation’s contract expires at the end of 2009. Under the next pact, the concert promoter should be required to share in cleanup costs, he said.
"It’s not just cleanup, it’s security too," Mabee said.
The following are comments from the readers. In no way do they represent the view of saratogian.com.
Andy George wrote on Dec 11, 2008 7:06 AM:
" Keep the park open and eliminate the park police. During the busy SPAC season they are absent when the park empties when they are needed the most for traffic control.They spend most of their days trying to trap local people in park speed traps. "
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State parks forecast rate hike
Admission rise, shorter season possible as department plans future
By KENNETH C. CROWE II, Staff writer
Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Thursday, December 11, 2008
SARATOGA SPRINGS — It could cost more next year to get into state parks, and they might be operating for shorter hours with smaller staffs, parks officials said Wednesday.
The state parks department's Saratoga-Capital District Region office has suggested budget cuts and fee increases for the state's 2009-10 budget, Regional Director Alane Ball Chinian said. The recommendations were sent to the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in Albany.
Reduction in facilities' days and hours of operation as well as cuts in seasonal staffing are among the proposals, she said.
Cuts in hours may come in the spring and fall, sparing the peak summertime use, said Robert Kuhn, the assistant regional director.
He and Ball Chinian presented a broad outline at the quarterly meeting of the Saratoga-Capital District State Park Recreation and Historic Preservation Commission at the Saratoga Spa State Park. They said they are also looking for savings in utility costs and other operating expenses.
"We already in state parks have a budget with no cream, no fluff,'' said Heather Mabee, the chairwoman of the commission, which oversees the region's parks. "It's going to be hard next year.''
"We don't know where we are with next year's budget,'' Ball Chinian said about the decisions that will impact park operations throughout the Capital Region.
"The agency has asked us to take another look at our budget and trim even more,'' she said.
Spending cuts made this fall had an immediate effect on park operations.
Schodack Island State Park was closed in October until the spring, due to a 10 percent budget cut. Ball Chinian said the region hopes to reach an agreement with the Schodack Town Board to reopen the park this winter.Mabee said the region will have to count on each park's volunteer friends group and fundraising to offset some cuts.