State park fees increase

State budget cuts are resulting in increased fees for state parks.

The Jindal administration’s budget relies on $1.3 million in self-generated funds from park operations to make up for state dollars taken away, Stuart Johnson, state parks assistant secretary, said Monday.

“It doesn’t give us any additional funds to operate with,” Johnson told the state Parks and Recreation Commission. “It helps us maintain more or less a standstill budget.”

The self-generated funds will come from a $1 increase in park admission fees and a $2 increase on the rental of campsites at the parks, Johnson said.

Park admission will now be $2.

Campsite fees vary depending on type of facilities. A premium campsite will now rent for $28 a day April through September and $20 a day from October through March. An improved site with water and electrical hook-up will be $22 and $18 for the same time periods while an unimproved site without water or electrical hook-up will be $14 a day year-round.

The state parks budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 is just under $32 million, of which $9.3 million is generated from park operations. The $9.3 million includes the new fees that began this month.

Johnson said parks are staying open but are having problems with shortages of personnel as well as funds to fix and maintain sites.

Three historic sites will remain on “caretaker status,” including Locust Grove in St. Francisville, Winter Quarters in Tensas Parish and Los Adaes at Robeline. Caretaker status means tours will have to be set up in advance. “They are not open on a daily basis,” Johnson said.

Full-time staff is down to 361 from 441, which is an 80-person decline in the past four years. “We are having difficulty getting things done that need to be done,” he said.

“We are getting more complaints than ever about conditions, such as bathrooms being kept clean though they are being cleaned twice daily, Johnson said.

“We have cabin issues trying to turn them over from one user to the next,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to say we are being picked on but that’s the reality of where we are.”

Money that is supposed to be used for park repairs and improvements also is being tapped for operational expenses. The fund has about $900,000 left, he said.

“It’s going to be a ticking time bomb. A sewage treatment problem could end in the shutting down of a park,” Johnson said.

Dianne Mouton-Allen, deputy assistant secretary, said state parks has taken some internal steps to fix roads that are in bad shape. “We are getting so many complaints,” she told the commission.

The agency has purchased equipment so that road repairs can be made by staff who have the expertise or who are being trained to do the overlay work, Mouton-Allen said.

Park personnel at Palmetto Island at Abbeville watched while work was being done at Bogue Chitto in Franklinton recently so they can tackle road work at their location, she said.

Johnson said costs are “a dime on the dollar. If we had to contract out, the cost would be tenfold,” he said.