State park maintenance fund proposed

Nebraska’s state parks would receive maintenance funds under a bill heard Feb. 4 by the Appropriations Committee.

LB873, introduced by O’Neill Sen. Tyson Larson, would create the Game and Parks State Park Improvement and Maintenance Fund.

A $15 million transfer from the state’s cash reserve would be made to the fund by July 31, 2014. The fund also could receive gifts, grants, bequests and donations.

Larson said the bill would allow the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to begin work on a long list of deferred maintenance projects and would help ensure that the parks continue to draw people to the state.

“There are serious infrastructure needs that must be addressed,” he said. “We are trying to make Nebraska more and more of a destination for tourists – for economic growth – and our park system does that.”

Jim Douglas, director of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, testified in support of the bill. The state park system has an annual economic impact on the state of nearly $750 million, he said.

Douglas said the cost of retrofitting the aging park system to comply with federal environmental regulations and accessibility requirements has rapidly outpaced the income that parks generate from entry permits and general fund dollars allocated for maintenance.

“All of these new mandates add a tremendous amount of money to the maintenance side,” he said.

Douglas said the roughly $12 million in the Commission’s annual maintenance budget cannot cover the more than $40 million in deferred maintenance needs in the 79 parks that comprise the system.

Louisville Mayor Alan Mueller also supported the bill, saying state recreation areas provide needed employment and economic development.

“Every business on our main street [receives] an economic reward from having the park system in our community,” Mueller said.

No opposition testimony was given and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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