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Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation Fee Proposal Overview

Black Pearl

 

In state and out of state visitors graph

In state and out of state visitors graph

Last night I attended the Delaware State Parks proposed fee increase workshop.  It was very informative to say the least.  I have been all over our parks and have seen a lot of things I don’t think many people see and just take for granted.  I met many people that work on the parks specific areas on a day to day basis, and saw many friends that work for the parks.  The maintenance required to upkeep many of these outdated structures in our parks is mind boggling.  One of the problems is much of the infrastructure has reached its lifespan.  For example many of the sewer or septic systems for entire parks are at the end of their thirty year lifespan.   These folks have a tough job deciding what, when, and where a limited budget can be used to fix and update many of the park’s structures.  It was a good workshop and I learned more than I thought I already knew.  The parks have a lot of outdated and repurposed structures and property to maintain, that takes money and man power.  Many people do not realize the parks are self sustaining entities, that have to raise their own money through fees to maintain the parks.  The fee increases are small in my opinion, and very necessary.  Honestly if it were up to me I would increase the fees even more, I know that is not a popular idea, but if you knew how much the parks are in need of repair and the costs associated, you would agree.  The best comparison I can give you is if you buy a fifty year old house and start fixing it back up to meet today’s codes and standards, the costs you will run into would be much more than buying a new house, however the parks can not just start replacing buildings.  Some of the structures have historical value and can not just be replaced, they have to be maintained.  The longer you wait to maintain an older structure the worse the damage.  A leaking roof will destroy more than just the roof, but also the structure beneath that roof.  So before anyone gets all “they need to do this” and “they make this money from this” or “I only use this part of a park why should I pay for everyone else”, keep in mind the parks have not raised fees in over 10 years, and the entire parks system have to maintain themselves.  Even with raised fees we are still the cheapest park system to use on the east coast and in some cases the entire country.  If you would like to attend one of the next meetings the list is below with the date and times.  There are two meetings each day for people’s convenience …  2:00 to 4:00 pm and 6:30 to 8:30 pm.  I highly recommend you take a good hard look at what the parks are dealing with before you start in on the proverbial soapboxing.  You can see a   PDF of the presentation at this link, and get an idea of what I am talking about.

  • Thursday, Dec. 4  2 – 4 p.m.   6:30 – 8:30 p.m.   Bellevue Hall   Bellevue State Park   911 Philadelphia Pike  Wilmington, DE, 19809

    Tuesday, Dec. 9  2 – 4 p.m.  6:30 – 8:30 p.m.   Killens Pond State Park Nature Center   5025 Killens Pond Rd.   Felton, DE, 19943

Below is the overview handout information …

Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation Fee Proposal Overview

 

Delaware State Parks proposed fee increases, state park fees

Delaware State Parks proposed fee increases

Thank you for your interest in the fee proposal for Delaware State Parks. This is a very brief summary of the business aspects of managing the parks, including the opportunities, challenges and barriers the Division faces as a self-funded model of operation.

Self-Funded Model

 The Division is primarily self-funded (65%), which is unique within state government. The current fee structure was established in 1971. The daily entrance fee at that time was $1 per vehicle; 43 years later, the entrance fee is $3 for a Delaware resident. Adjusting for inflation, the cost for entering a park has declined dramatically and does not provide adequate funding for the state park system.
Challenges
Being self-funded requires the Division to project and manage a budget of fixed expenses with a revenue
stream that fluctuates annually due to many variables outside our control, including:
• Weather (i.e. rainy summer season, hurricanes, excessive heat, etc.)
• High fuel costs that impact annual visitation
• Economic downturns that affect the amount of discretionary money available for vacationers
• Maximized revenue generating capacity within the current fee structure
• Carrying capacity limitations at the largest revenue generating management units such as ocean parks

 

Delaware State Parks proposed fee increases

Delaware State Parks proposed fee increases

Operating Costs
Annual increases in operating expenses and unfunded mandates are covered through the existing fee structure
and revenue. Since entrance fees were last increased 10 years ago, there have been dramatic increases in
operating expenses. Several recent key increases include:
• Minimum wage increase compliance of $1.00/hr. over a two-year period (June 2014 and June 2015 Senate
Bill 6) = $341,586.10
• Capital improvement project loans: annual debt service payment for Cape Henlopen and Lums Pond infrastructure upgrades (July 2014 and Summer 2015) = $282,200.80
• Aggressive competition for seasonal staffing, particularly lifeguards at the ocean beach resorts. To ensure the state park system is able to recruit and retain qualified employees, a salary-leveling increase was implemented for ocean lifeguards (June 2014) = $47,545.00
• Conversion of 47 high-mileage, fully-depreciated vehicles (average 13 years old and 90,944 miles) to
annual fleet leases = $230,900.00

 

delaware state park fees graph

Where the money comes from different fees

Fiscal Management
Being self-funded requires the Division to routinely hold critical positions vacant and implement self-imposed operating budget reductions throughout the fiscal year. The state park system currently operates with 16% fewer full-time employees than seven years ago (165 in FY 2014, compared to 197 in FY 2009).  Routine cost containment measures ensure that park expenditures do not exceed the amount of revenue  generated, and that adequate funding is available during the reduced revenue-generating months of the year (October through March). The Division maximizes every opportunity to market and promote state park programs and services in addition to the parks themselves, and is a recognized leader in state government with the development of partnerships, Friends organizations, and the use of volunteers.  However, even the Division’s entrepreneurial business approach does not provide funding ($100M) for  deferred maintenance for aging infrastructure, most of which was built in the 1960s and 1970s, or for capital  improvement projects (utilities, surf fishing pier, roads and parking lots) throughout the park system.
Fee Increase Revenue
The additional revenue generated would address day-to-day operational expenses, in addition to providing critical funding for deferred maintenance on building and utilities, replacement of aging equipment and to  sustain the park system into the future.
We want to hear from you!
After reviewing this document, please go to our online comment form to give us your thoughts about the Delaware State Parks fee proposal.

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Try to make a meeting and please review the material provided in the   PDF presentation before you send in your public comments.  These people have a very tough job and uninformed negativity helps no one.

Fish On!!

Rich King

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