State parks system still needs $3 million each year for repairs, - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

State parks system still needs $3 million each year for repairs, replacement

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CHARLESTON, WV -

Keeping up with the maintenance on any 40-some-year-old structure, be it person, home or state park, can get costly.

And according to Ken Caplinger with the Division of Natural Resources, the park system needs at least $3 million each year in recurrent funding for major repairs and equipment replacement.

Caplinger told lawmakers during a monthly legislative committee meeting that the park system is bigger and older than most people think.

The system saw 6.6 million visitors last year, and 800,000 overnight visitors. There are 35 parks, seven forests, five wildlife management areas and two rail trails. The system includes 354 cabins and 1,948 campsites as well as 433 full-time employees and nearly 1,000 hourly employees during the peak summer season.

Caplinger said of the nearly 1,500 buildings, 189 of those are 75 years old or older. He said many buildings were created in the 1930s during the CCC era, and all that adds up to a backlog of infrastructure needs.

Caplinger said the $3 million each year in dedicated funding was recommended by a legislative audit last year.

He explained that funding sources for the park system include the general revenue budget, two separate lottery accounts and a special revenue account. Caplinger said the total of all that funding for Fiscal Year 2014 was $38,708,376, and it's all designated. The general revenue appropriation is used for classified service salaries and benefits for the parks' full-time staff and a few DNR personnel who work within the system. Lottery Account 3267 funds also are used for salaries and benefits. Special park revenue account 3265 comes from park operations such as lodging rentals, golf green fees and camping fees. It is used to fund current park expenses, such as vehicle expenses, hourly employees and fees the parks pay other agencies. Some of the lottery funds are spent on park advertisement, and lottery account 3277 funds go to routine repairs, equipment replacement and repairs to aging infrastructure.

Caplinger said the parks' engineering section completed an assessment that showed $8.6 million in immediate repair needs, $23.2 million in repair needs for the next two to three years and $16.4 million in less critical maintenance needs.

Caplinger told lawmakers one of the immediate needs that made itself evident in the middle of the night a few months ago. He said an HVAC pipe at Pipestem Lodge burst above an electrical panel, which caused an explosion and a fire that required some 65 people in the lodge to be evacuated.

"Thanks to an alert security guard, we narrowly averted a tragic situation there," Caplinger told lawmakers.

He also listed some possible sources of dedicated park funding, but pointed out that neither DNR nor the governor's administration endorsed any of them. He said the ideas were food for thought he had gathered from among the 49 other state park directors he works with on the National Association of State Park Directors.

Those suggestions included a soda pop tax, bottled water tax, additional tax on real estate transfers, additional severance taxes on natural resource extraction, a tourism sales tax, sporting goods tax, tobacco tax, motor vehicle plate fee and a park entry or parking fee.

Caplinger said the average self-sufficiency of all state parks systems was about 45 percent in Fiscal Year 2012, and West Virginia was above average at 54 percent. He said Beech Fork State Park was at 99 percent operational self sufficiency in Fiscal Year 2012 and Chief Logan Lodge was at 140 percent operational self-sufficiency.