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Maybe they should call it the "Dismember Pass"
Winner: The bozos in Olympia who are dismantling the state parks system
The Washington state parks system turns 100 in 2013, and is said to be at a crossroads. If it is, it's a crossroads where it's in the middle of a devastating slow-motion wreck. State funding has been slashed — down from $94.3 million in 2007-09 to $17.2 million for 2011-13. Worse is yet to come.
Budgeters in Olympia in 2011 came up with an idea to help balance the state budget: Slash the state parks system and hope to zero it out of the general fund completely in 2013. How to do that? Go to a user-fee system charging $10 for admission to parks or a $30 annual Discover Pass. Never mind that we're still recovering from the Great Recession, that gas prices have been sky high, that the fee system was instituted overnight with little warning. Residents were hit with sticker shock. And never mind that no state park system in the country operates without at least some taxpayer support. The parks budget counted on selling $53.7 million in park passes, but that wasn't rooted in any kind of reality. In it's first year, the Discover Pass brought in less than half of what was expected and even with more marketing, Parks anticipates about the same for this year, meaning a projected shortfall of around $27 million.
The damage is scary: fewer rangers, less maintenance, eroding infrastructure, less security, inadequate funds to deal with long-term stewardship issues, and an uncertain future. Not only does parks help protect the natural environment, but according to a Parks commission's 2012 report, the 117 Washington State Parks have "the largest collection of historic buildings, artifacts and other resources among state agencies." They oversee some 700 historic structures. They're responsible for more than buildings: Parks protects vulnerable Native American cultural resources too, like ancient petroglyphs.
Parks has made some changes to the Discover Pass program that improve it (a pass can now cover two vehicles, for example). In these budget times, a user-fee system has to be part of the mix. Parks will have to work harder to raise funds from other sources, including donations, grants and other fees. But the Discover Pass system was instituted too quickly with the unrealistic idea that Parks could become self-funding virtually overnight. As a result, Parks will now have to fight its way back into the general fund at a time when the new governor and state senate have committed to no new taxes and with other agencies competing for a piece of the pie. Parks plans to request $27.2 million for support for the next biennium (2013-15). Zeroing them out is not a viable option. To celebrate their centennial, we owe the system — and ourselves — a sustainable model.
Winner: Packard House demolition, Anacortes, WA
Identified by the Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation as one of Anacortes' "most significant properties" and listed by the Washington Trust as a "most endangered" structure in 2005, the Packard House built in the late 1920s was razed in December. The historic, Federal Revival-style home on Fidalgo Bay in the Cap Sante neighborhood fell victim to plans to subdivide the property for development because of its prime views. The home was considered one of the "finest and most faithful" example of its style in the region and was modeled on George Washington's Mount Vernon. The original owner of the house was Charles Q. Adams who apparently died on the day he and his wife moved into it in 1930. It was named after the long-term subsequent owners. Some neighbors rallied to save the structure, but efforts to move it failed. Over the years, the vacant house deteriorated while legal battles over the property turned into what has been called a "legal quagmire."
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