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Arizona State Parks should negotiate with Lake Havasu City

Late last June, the lack of a state budget produced the very real possibility that on July 1, the Windsor Beach unit of Lake Havasu State Park would not open. This situation worried citizens and business owners in Lake Havasu City, because July 4 is one of the busiest times of the summer boating season and Windsor Beach provides primary boating access to Lake Havasu and the Colorado River.

Its closure would have a profound negative impact on many businesses, jobs and families in the community. Fortunately, the state budget was adopted and the park opened on schedule, but the scare served as a wake-up call for Lake Havasu City.

With the loss of construction jobs and their related tax revenue, Lake Havasu City’s prime focus has turned to tourism and recreation. We believe that if properly planned and progressively developed, recreational boating, fishing, special events and other local attractions will bring economic recovery to the region and the state.

This new focus, fueled by the continuing deterioration of State Parks funding mechanisms, prompted Lake Havasu City officials to approach State Parks officials with a proposal to allow the city to incorporate Lake Havasu State Park into its existing municipal parks program. In exchange, the city would guarantee a minimum $50,000 payment to State Parks each year, which is $12,000 more net revenue than the park generated last year. In addition, the city offered to honor for two years the annual passes sold by State Parks.

The city’s pledge is to keep entry fees down and return any proceeds to the park in the form of park improvements, repairs and expansion.

The city’s proposal has been repeatedly rebuffed and denounced by State Parks staff. They say Lake Havasu “is their biggest moneymaker,” and they need that money to stay afloat.

State Parks recently increased entry fees on the weekends by 50 percent (to $15 from $10), increased the annual pass fee by 60 percent (to $200 from $125), and plans to reduce operating expenses at the park by 20 percent (to $647,000 from $812,000).

Through these actions, the park’s net revenue is projected to increase from last year’s $38,000, to more than $200,000 this year, and more than $400,000 in 2011. That’s an astounding 1,000 percent increase in revenues in just 24 months!

Lake Havasu City wants Arizona State Parks to succeed and flourish. While we may question their revenue projections and have concerns about the agency’s business model, keeping Lake Havasu State Park open is an economic must for our community, and we sincerely hope the agency is able to keep it open.

To do so, however, State Parks staff claims the agency will require a $3 million loan from the Legislature while significantly reducing the operating expenses at a park already crumbling from almost a decade of neglect. For example, event planners are now required to provide portable toilets for special events because the public facilities are inadequate and unreliable. And due to reduced park staffing, event organizers are now asked to perform their own trash pickup and hauling. In 2009, local volunteers donated thousands of hours of labor, repaired park boats, and even donated new tires for park vehicles. When those vehicles were on their last legs, Lake Havasu City transferred two service vehicles to the park, which, until the city protested, at least one was slated to be moved to another state park.

Arizona State Parks contends that relinquishing control of the park would prompt additional park closures and delay the reopening of others. We think that’s a pretty hefty responsibility to place on one small community and people who only desire a place to launch their boat to enjoy a day on the lake.

In her report to the Parks Board just a few months ago, Executive Director Renee Bahl said, “it’s no longer about the mission of Arizona State Parks — it’s all about the money.” We disagree. We think Arizona State Parks should remain true to its mission and, in doing so, permit Lake Havasu City to assume the management, operations and maintenance of Lake Havasu State Park.

State lawmakers will have an opportunity to support the success of Lake Havasu State Park through the passage of H2464, which compels Arizona State Parks to work with Lake Havasu City on a lease agreement.

The most important goal is to keep the park open. Whether it is run by the state or the city, the customers are the same. The difference, however, is the city’s plan includes lower fees, park improvements, better customer service and, perhaps the most important, a secure future.

— Charlie Cassens is interim
city manager for Lake Havasu City.

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