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HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES Park fees could be on chopping block



Published: Fri, April 1, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Republicans said they are seeking alternative ways to raise the needed funds.

By MICHELE C. HLADIK

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

COLUMBUS -- Ohio State Parks visitors will not need to pay parking fees if Republican members of the Ohio House of Representatives have any say in the matter.

Members of the House Republican Caucus met Wednesday to discuss several issues in the state budget, including ways to forgo a $5-a-day parking fee or $20-a-year parking pass to enter Ohio's numerous state parks.

Among the ideas proposed at the meeting were to curtail the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' litter-control and recycling program, to assign park road-maintenance duties to the Ohio Department of Transportation and to use tipping fees collected for the dumping of waste to augment the ODNR budget.

First option

According to Karen Tabor, spokeswomen for House Republicans, the most likely solution would involve the litter-prevention program, which could free up $8 million.

"This one generated the most discussion," she said.

State Rep. Thom Collier, R-Mount Vernon, said he believes the solution could come in a combination of the efforts listed above. He said all may not be necessary, but the options will give the House Finance Committee some direction.

He also said many House Republicans found "comfort" in the fact they may be able to find an alternative to the fees.

"[The fees] were not very popular," he said, adding that the commotion created by the fee proposal and the questions behind how much the fees could generate were part of their unpopularity.

Already paying

Lawmakers also expressed a reluctance to charge taxpayers to visit the parks provided by their tax dollars.

"It's something our members have been discussing and feel strongly about it," Tabor said.

Tabor said she hasn't talked to senators to gauge their reaction to the House Republican plan.

Ohio Senate President Bill Harris, R-Ashland, said he was never happy about the park fees and that the Senate would consider any alternate proposal when the House sends a completed budget bill its way.

"What we agree, on we'll support," Harris said, "and what we don't, we'll work out in conference committee."

According to Tabor, the newer version of the budget bill, which would contain the alternatives to the fees, is not expected for another week.

Some of those who live and work near Mohican State Park expressed relief at the chance lawmakers will shelve the fees.




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