State parks leaders cut staff; legislators object
Washington's state park system is laying off rangers. One of them suggests people who want to save the parks could buy a Discover Pass, sales of which are the park system's primary source of funds.
The Peninsula Gateway
Washington state parks rangers probably spent the holidays feeling like pingpong balls.
After a period of grappling between the State Parks and Recreation Commission and the Legislature over proposed layoffs, park rangers are receiving pink slips.
"We've known about the impending doom for a while," Penrose Point Park Ranger Janet Shonk said. "Morale is low, and there are a lot of people that have been affected. It's a tough thing for everyone."
"They didn't have any other options," Park Ranger Dan Christian said of the commission's decision. "They're losing so much money every day, and tax dollars were all but cut off."
Christian received his notice about a week ago.
After the Parks and Recreation Commission announced it would begin to reduce its staff last month, legislators urged the commission to delay the decision, citing public-safety issues.
A letter to the commissioners dated Dec. 14 read: "We are asking for this process to be slowed down to consider whether this is the best way to target the reductions, if we are compromising public safety, how the public will be served, and if the Parks and Recreation agency mission can still be met."
Don Hoch, the commission's director, responded in a letter dated Dec. 20 that it would be "irresponsible and dangerous to delay cutting expenditures."
The letter stated: "Our calculations are that every month we do not act we widen the gap by an average of $750,000 — resulting in much deeper reductions and more layoffs later. The situation would be bleak if Discover Pass and other revenues do not increase. Our goal is to keep parks open, but we need the help and support of the public to do that."
One of the reasons pinpointed for the parks' predicament is the lack of revenue generated from the Discover Pass, a $30 annual payment that allows day-use parking at any state park. The parks claim the state hasn't sold enough passes to keep parks operating at current levels.
State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, said he's concerned the parks' bookkeeping system was not showing the complete picture.
"They discovered they were in deep trouble and had to start immediately laying people off," he said. "We all know we needed to watch those Discover Pass receipts, but that's only one part of the revenue stream. We need to look at the whole picture."
Shonk said that, while legislators asked the agency to wait, the parks had to act because there was no guarantee of funding.
"It's very unfortunate for us," she said. "People are getting their letters now. We were told that if we don't start this process now, it would be worse down the road."
Christian said rangers who were notified were given a list of other positions available within the parks system, but most were part-time or seasonal, and there is no guarantee that a particular position would be available. Open positions would be given to those with the most seniority, he said.
Christian said people who want to help state parks can do so by purchasing the Discover Pass.
"It's supposed to make up for the losses of general-fund dollars," he said. "Between the day-access fees and camping fees, that is how we are making revenue, and that's what we're operating off of, but we're not making enough. The agency recognizes this, and we are encouraging people to use the passes."