2005-04-15 / Top News

Deep Budget Cuts Put Historic Sites in Jeopardy

Island Parks Commission Sends Budget Report to Governor, Seeks Public Support
By Karen Gould

Island Parks Commission Sends Budget Report to Governor, Seeks Public Support

By Karen Gould

A victim of Michigan’s dismal economy and deep budget cuts proposed by the governor’s office, Mackinac State Historic Parks programs and historic buildings maintenance are in jeopardy. The final decisions on next year’s budget will be made in Lansing before October, and the Mackinac Island State Park Commission staged an appeal Monday, April 11, at the State Capitol building, just two floors from Governor Jennifer Granholm’s office, to draw attention to the ramifications of a proposed $1.49 million cut.

The cut would come in the commission’s 2005/06 fiscal year budget, which begins October 1, and the purpose of the Lansing meeting was to present a report on what the commission is doing to raise more revenue, and what programs it will need to cut if the governor and legislature withhold the state appropriation.

Commissioners are working hard to get the message out that Mackinac Island State Park, which contains Arch Rock and other unique natural features, and the Park Commission’s three historic sites are significant to history, the state, the economy, and the citizens of Michigan. Their sites include Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island, and Colonial Michilimackinac and Historic Mill Creek on the mainland, near Mackinaw City.

The proposed budget cut is even more frightening to the Commission because the governor’s office made no distinction between its historic parks and the state’s prosaic campgrounds, which earn their relatively meager keep through camping and ed that the Mackinac Island State Park Commission do the same.

"Mackinac State Historic Parks are not just another state park," reads the Commission’s report to state lawmakers. "We are a unique blend of pristine lands, historic structures, wondrous geologic formations, and priceless historical documents and artifacts."

Commissioners have identified some new sources of income, and suggest several fee hikes, but they have been unable to come close to making up a $1.49 million cut. Previous state cuts of nearly $500,000 since 2001 already have forced the Mackinac Island State Park Commission to streamline its operations. Admission prices are near the high limit. Next to be cut could be the commission’s mission of historic interpretation and public education, and the preservation of Michigan’s oldest surviving structures.

"The commission would be utterly remiss in its sworn duties if it silently acquiesced in the gradual degradation of that which was entrusted to us," concludes the report before requesting the funding be put back into the park’s budget.

"It seems to be a fair and prudent statement of our situation, and I think it is done in the proper tone," said Commissioner Frank Kelley, the former attorney general, of the report. "I think it explains satisfactorily what our true position is."

The commission’s report will be sent to legislative appropriation committees and the governor’s office. This is just the beginning of a long budget process with final numbers not being decided before September, said Commission Chairman Dennis Cawthorne.

In 1895, Mackinac Island State Park became the state’s first state park, and for the last 101 years, since 1904, the state has appropriated general fund dollars to the Park Commission. In 2001, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission received $2 million from the state’s general fund.

Since 2001, however, the park’s general fund support has been decreased by nearly 25 percent, and in the report, commissioners stated that, "…the parks are already operating at a level reflecting a lean, highly efficient, economy-minded administration."

If the commission is not able to get the general funding put back into its budget, it suggests the following cuts may be needed: Close and shutter some historic buildings, delay or eliminate painting and other maintenance projects, eliminate some restoration and preservation programs, reduce care of more than one million historic and archaeo-logical objects, close restrooms, curtail grass cutting and grounds maintenance, reduce police and fire security systems, slow trash removal, reduce airport services, discontinue the publications programs, reduce exhibits, reduce interpretation programs, and reduce archaeology programs.

The park, through admission fees and other income from historic sites, generates revenue totaling $4.2 million dollars annually. In addition, the commission believes it can generate new funds totaling $202,500 through increased fees and earned revenue. This would reduce the $1.49 million shortfall to $1,287,500.

The additional funding would come from three sources, including new fees, increased fees, and earned income using park resources.

Commercial bicycle license fees and group activity permit fees would be levied to generate $67,000 in new funding.

British Landing docking fees, airport parking fees, motor vehicle permit fees, and lease transfer fees would be increased to capture $26,500 in additional funding.

Leasing and renting selected properties for weddings, receptions, and other activities, and increasing merchandise sales would bring in new revenue totaling $59,000.

The commission also plans to find approximately $50,000 from new sources of private and corporate funding.

Commissioner Bob Traxler, former U.S. House of Representatives and one-time chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, sought federal funding for the park’s annual operational expenses, but found no funding available. He did, however, identify a potential source for funding to replace two old snow plows serving the Mackinac Island State Park, but such funding will not reduce the budget shortfall.

The bi-partisan Mackinac Island State Park Commission is appointed by Michigan’s governor and confirmed by the Senate. Current members include Chairman Dennis Cawthorne, Vice-chairman Karen Karam, and Commissioners Frank Kelley, Joan Porteous, Bob Traxler, Audrey Jaggi, and Richard Manoogian. Mrs. Jaggi and Mr. Manoogian were absent from the meeting Monday.

Three people responded when Mr. Cawthorne asked for public comment during the meeting, including two Island residents and one frequent visitor who has started a grassroots organization to get Michigan residents to contact the governor and the state legislature and request funding be restored.

Point Aux Pins resident Frank Pompa said his concern with the report involved the cuts.

"Some of the basic maintenance and restoration projects to the historic buildings on the Island might get shoveled as a result of any budget cuts, and that absolutely would be a crime if that happened because some of the oldest buildings in Michigan, going back to the American Revolution, pre-American revolution, are on Mackinac Island and they need to be maintained," he said. "I honestly believe that if the people of Michigan understood this, that there is no way they would stand for these kind of cuts. We have to maintain these buildings," he said.

Marta Olson, president of Mackinac Associates, a nonprofit friends group that supports the educational programs of Mackinac State Historic Parks, said losing the appropriation and putting fees in place would severely hurt tourism.

"We need to make it still affordable for families to be able to go," she said. "I hope that the legislature will continue this appropriations that is extremely important."

Mackinac Island supporter, Brad Conkey, the mayor of Sylvan Lake and chairman of the newly-formed Families United for Mackinac, said his members are seeking to keep Mackinac Island and its state park accessible to all families. The group opposes access fees and wants funding to continue in order to preserve the historic significance of the Straits area.

Chairman Cawthorne also encouraged others to write to the governor and state legislature in support of restoring the state appropriation.

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