Hearing set on fees for parking

Officials say the proposal could raise $3 million in the first year.
COLUMBUS -- The public will get the chance Feb. 12 to sound off on a proposal to have visitors pay to park in state parks.
The state has scheduled a public hearing for that date at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus on the proposal, which is being considered by a state legislative oversight committee.
Under the proposal by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the state park system, Ohio residents would pay $5 daily per vehicle or buy an annual pass for $25, ODNR spokesman Jim Lynch said Friday.
Senior Citizens with Golden Buckeye discount cards would be able to buy $4 daily passes or $20 annual passes, Lynch said. Non-Ohio residents would pay $6 for a daily pass or $30 for an annual one under the proposal.
Lynch said the proposal could raise $3 million in the first year for the park system, a figure that could grow.
Prompting the move
Lynch said tight state finances are prompting the move.
"Our state park managers are telling us ... that we cannot tighten our belt anymore," Lynch said.
"This is probably one of our last alternatives, but it's our best option as we look to maintain the quality of service that Ohioans have come to expect from their state parks," he said.
The state parks have cut costs, Lynch said. He said there were 486 full-time parks employees last year, down from 607 in 2000.
The state parks have also made cuts in maintenance, closed campgrounds and lesser used areas of parks during certain times of the year and dropped the number of seasonal employees, Lynch said.
The state parks have also raised fees for visitors to stay in cabins and use boat docks and campgrounds.
The proposal is to go before the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, a legislative oversight committee that reviews proposed administrative rules, in early March, state officials said.
One environmental group said it would support the proposal, though reluctantly.
"The parks desperately need this revenue," said Jack Shaner, public affairs director for the Ohio Environmental Council. The OEC said it's made up of more than 100 environmental and conservation groups around Ohio that have more than 3,000 members statewide.
"The public will see a severe drop in services and drop in park quality unless some significant revenue is picked up," Shaner said.
The Parks Division of ODNR oversees 74 state parks, nine resort lodges and 56 family campgrounds with more than 9,000 campsites.
The division has an annual budget of $67 million, half supported by the state general fund and half by user fees.
State officials say they hope to implement the parking permit fee in May before peak state park use begins.

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