Budget cuts $2 million from parks

Published 11:37 am Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Oak Mountain State Park could be negatively impacted by a state budget recently passed by the Alabama Legislature, the park's superintendent said. (File)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Oak Mountain State Park Superintendent Michael Jeffreys said a state budget recently passed by the Alabama Legislature could have negative impacts on the state park.

The Alabama Senate voted 29-6 on May 16 to approve a bill outlining the state’s general fund budget appropriations. The Alabama House of Representatives previously voted 56-47 to pass the bill, which determines the funding allocated to each state agency.

Alabama’s state parks typically receive a portion of the revenue generated from the state’s cigarette tax, but the budget passed by the Legislature calls for $2 million of the $3 million in cigarette tax revenue to be transferred to the state’s general fund.

Last year’s budget included a $5 million funding cut for state parks for the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years – money intended to be used to maintain state park buildings and equipment, Jeffreys said.

Jeffreys said the cut in state funding could force the state park to rely more heavily on visitor day fees in the future, and said the park is looking at ways to up its receipts “in a lot of ways.”

“This year, the budget is good. Next year is when this will really start affecting us,” Jeffreys said, noting he recently met with other Alabama state park superintendents to plan for the future. “I’m looking at taking steps toward being proactive now.”

Jeffreys said he likely will not open the park’s fishing center this year.

“We can do everything we do (at the fishing center) out of the back gate,” he said.

The funding cut could impact the park’s ability to maintain its facilities and equipment, and could lead to layoffs “as a last resort,” Jeffreys said.

State legislators said they tried to avoid cutting state park funding, but said tight financial times made it necessary.

“There was an effort to restore some of the funding to the state parks, but that effort was not successful,” said state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, who voted in favor of the budget. “There is a possibility that there could be some supplemental appropriations made (to state parks) in the future.

“At the end of the day, we passed a budget that is within our means,” Ward said.