By Nancy Allen
The Parks Pride pass program that would have charged a parking fee to visitors of Ohio's 74 state parks to raise roughly $3 million dollars a year for the state's cash-strapped parks is dead.
That was the word from Celina resident Owen Hall -- who serves on the state parks advisory board -- during a Lake Development Corporation meeting on Monday. Hall said legislators have proposed other ways to generate funds for the division of parks and recreation that does not include the parking fee.
State Rep. Keith Faber, R-Celina, has been working to get the fee eliminated and looking at other proposals to help the state parks.
Those include having the Ohio Department of Transportation begin maintaining park roadways, which would save parks roughly $1 million a year, and transferring roughly $3 million in general revenue funds to parks that the governor has proposed be allocated to other areas.
Faber said the proposals have been put in the House version of the budget, which is currently being considered in the Senate. This morning he said he has every expectation that the Senate will keep the allocations and eliminate the need for the fees. "The parking fee was expected to generate roughly $3 million a year, but was going to cost a half million dollars a year to collect," he said. "We believe we have more than replaced those funds."
Another proposal made in the House includes implementing a voluntary fee that people could agree to pay when they purchase vehicle license plates. The fee could raise between $3 to $10 million in funds annually for parks, soil and water conservation districts and wildlife, Faber said.
Faber's assistant, Michael Rodgers, this morning said the House version of the budget allocates $37,874,841 to parks for fiscal year 2006 and $39,874,841 for fiscal year 2007. Rodgers noted the House's allocations are actually higher than the figure initially recommended by Gov. Bob Taft, who recommended $34,874,841 to parks for both fiscal years.
Grand Lake St. Marys State Park Manager Craig Morton reported that last weekend's annual lake cleanup day was a success with 105 volunteers collecting 78 bags of garbage. Among the volunteers were inmates from the Mercer and Auglaize County jails. Many volunteers also helped drag tree limbs downed by last January's ice storm to sites where they were picked up by state parks workers.
Morton also said state park officials have completed major cleanup of limbs in lake channels. He encouraged people who notice other limbs in channels to call the park office.
The water level in the lake is 11 inches above normal pool, Morton said.
LDC member Frank Murray reported via a letter that the LDC's annual Legislative Day on the Lake will be held June 2 at Wright State University-Lake Campus.