Idaho Parks director seeks 10 percent increase for 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The director of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation wants to double the amount of general fund money the agency gets in 2014 and praised a legion of volunteers for helping keep all 30 state parks open last year.

Director Nancy Merrill said the agency, which has had its general fund contribution sliced significantly in recent years, got help from hundreds of people last year who volunteered an estimated 86,000 hours of service to help keep state parks open and operating.

"We are very proud to say we've been able to keep all 30 of our state parks open," Merrill told legislative budget writers Monday during her annual appearance before the committee. "Much of this is due to our great volunteers.

In 2012, overnight occupancy at state parks increased by 2.6 percent and revenue from all funding sources was up by 7.45 percent, Merrill said. The agency's total budget for fiscal 2013 is $32.4 million, with the vast majority of that coming from dedicated funds, entry and camping fees, RV registrations and $5 million in federal funds.

"It has been a cumulative agency effort to do the best with what we have," Merrill said in a Spokesman-Review story.

For next year, however, Merrill is asking for a little extra from the state's general fund. Her 2014 budget request is for $2.8 million, more than double from the $1.3 million appropriated a year ago. In his budget proposal, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter approved $1.35 million, or a 2 percent hike in general fund resources. The difference is due largely to a request of $1.4 million in replacement items Otter doesn't support.

Merrill also told lawmakers the agency's sales of park "Passports" are off to a good start. Since October, the agency has sold 18,400 passports, the $10 annual pass for access to all state parks that can be purchased when motorists renew vehicle registrations. The agency is counting on sales of the passes to provide critical revenue in the future.

The head of Idaho's state parks is asking lawmakers to double the agency's share of general fund revenue in 2014.

Department of Parks and Recreation Director Nancy Merrill also told budget writers Monday the agency kept all 30 state parks open last year — thanks in part to a legion of volunteers who provided 86,000 hours of free work last season.

The department got $1.3 million from the general fund in 2013. Merrill asked for an increase Monday, requesting $2.8 million to help with the agency's budget next year.

The Spokesman-Review reports Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter is recommending $1.35 million for the agency.

The department's total budget in 2013 was $32.4 million, with most of the revenue coming from park fees, RV registrations, dedicated funds and federal cash.

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Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com