Only half who renew car tabs are paying extra $5 for state parks
State drivers are rejecting new parks fee
Seattle Times staff reporter
Nearly half of the state drivers, when renewing their vehicle licenses, are opting not to pay the extra $5 to support state parks.
Officials blame it on the economy.
According to Virginia Painter with the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, since the program started in September, only 51.5 percent of car owners are volunteering to pay the extra $5 for parks.
Still, that's enough to keep the parks open.
The commission is now working to hand over some state parks to four park jurisdictions: Wenberg Park, north of Everett, would go to Snohomish County; Tolmie in Thurston County to either the county, the city of Lacey or the Nisqually Tribe; Osoyoos to the town of Oroville or the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation; and Fort Ward on Bainbridge Island to the city of Bainbridge.
The legislation setting up the fee was passed last year and said parks would remain open as long as adequate donations were collected. State parks said it needs to receive about $1.2 million a month over the biennium; the average collected through December was $1.1 million.
State officials couldn't forecast what the rejection rate would be because the program is so new, said Painter. She also said that those who mistakenly agree to the $5 donation can ask for a refund if they don't want to pay the parks fee.
"So far, the donations are coming in under the line of what's needed, but we're squeaking by," said Rex Derr, state parks director. "The commission is optimistic about the program because we know how much people love their state parks."
The 2009-2011 budget reduced the general-fund budget for state parks by $52 million in hopes the donations would help make up the difference. Historically, state parks have relied on general-fund tax dollars.
In the 2007-09 biennium, general-fund money made up 66 percent of the state parks' operating budget. Under the new donation program, only 30 percent is financed by the general fund and 47 percent from the donation collections, plus money earned in parks fees. The money goes to everything from rangers salaries to fixing plumbing at the parks.
To save money last year, state parks froze travel, hiring and spending, cut staff and consolidated offices.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.