With Arizona State Parks facing an uncertain future due to budget cuts, Lake Havasu City is proposing taking over operations of a popular facility there.
Unlike some other communities that have partnered to keep state parks open, however, Lake Havasu City wants a long-term lease to operate Lake Havasu State Park, home of the community’s busiest and largest boating ramp.
“Help us help you,” Mayor Mark Nexsen told the House Natural Resources and Rural Affairs Committee on Feb. 15. “The state cannot afford to keep our park open, and we cannot afford to have it close.”
In response to budget cuts, the Arizona State Parks Board plans to close 13 parks around the state while keeping nine open. For now, Lake Havasu State Park is slated to remain open.
Rep. Doris Goodale, a Kingman Republican who is sponsoring a bill to make the lease possible, said that could change. Her bill, H2786, would require Arizona State Parks Board to enter into a 25-year lease with Lake Havasu City, with the community paying the state $50,000 per year.
With Rep. Bill Konopnicki, the committee’s chairman, not in attendance, the panel put off voting on the proposal until next week.
Nexsen said $50,000 is more revenue than the agency reported for the park in the latest fiscal year. He added that the city has successfully taken over operations of two county parks.
“We are not novices at this,” he said.
Jay Ziemann, assistant director of Arizona State Parks, said his agency is counting on revenue from Lake Havasu State Park. He noted that lawmakers have told the agency to operate on revenues alone.
“By giving the park to the city, it will only hurt the public,” Ziemann said. “We would eventually have to close even more parks, and that is not benefiting anyone.”
Ziemann said Arizona State Parks is anticipating that by 2011 Lake Havasu State Park will generate $424,000 more than it costs to operate, in large part through more efficient use of staff and increased fees.
Interim City Manager Charlie Cassens said Lake Havasu City doesn’t plan to increase fees, as officials believe that would cut down on park visitors. He said that the city plans to reinvest excess revenues to improve the park.
“By assuming operational control, we are bringing stability to our community, and that’s important,” Cassens said.
Robin Christofferson, boating facilities program manger for the park, said in a telephone interview that the docks and ramps at Windsor Beach, the centerpiece of the park, are in poor condition and need to be replaced.
“It’s a major function of the city’s economy and is obviously very important,” he said. “But it needs renovation, and we are hoping that will begin soon.”
The city of Yuma has an agreement to operate Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park, and Ziemann said Yuma is exploring the possibility of taking over Yuma Territorial Prison State Park. Payson and Arizona State Parks are discussing options for keeping Tonto Natural Bridge State Park open, he said.
However, Ziemann said, those and other arrangements discussed so far would be short-term.
Nexsen, the mayor, said Lake Havasu City needs the stability of a long-term lease to justify its costs in taking over the park, adding that it would be an important investment for the community.
“Tourism is key, and this park is instrumental to our city’s survival,” he said.