Saturday, July 20, 2002

Ohio parks suffer state's budget woes

Department will cut 75 jobs, close unused areas and nurseries

By Mark Williams
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS - The Department of Natural Resources will eliminate 75 jobs, close one of two tree nurseries, reduce its naturalist program and allow park managers to close little-used areas under a plan released Friday.

        Director Sam Speck approved the action, following a 9 percent budget cut that Gov. Bob Taft ordered earlier this month. Taft ordered $375 million in cuts in all state agencies because of the state's continuing revenue shortfall.

        Some of the positions to be eliminated are already vacant, and some employees will take early retirement, Mr. Speck said.

        The state plans to close either its Zanesville or Marietta nursery and consolidate the operation.

        The department also will consider closing some underused areas in some parks - such as some campgrounds during winter - although no state park, forest or preserve will be closed, Mr. Speck said.

        Keeping the parks open, along with the natural areas, preserves and forests, was a priority as the agency tries to limit the effect on the public, Mr. Speck said.

        “It's taken a lot of work by all our people to get a handle on these cuts and keep quality services for the public,” he said.

        Some department functions that rely on their own funding, such as the watercraft division, will be able to help the department through the rough times by supervising lakes in state parks, he added.

        However, Mr. Speck said, he is concerned that the department has had to defer buying new equipment and performing major maintenance.

        “Those things will have to be addressed over time,” he said.

        The agency will review programs and consider more reorganization over the next few years, he said.

        The state has struggled to balance its $44 billion budget over the past year and is already facing a potential shortfall in the 2004-05 budget, which begins July 1, 2003.

        Mr. Taft and lawmakers had to fix a $1.5 billion deficit that arose in October and a $1.9 billion deficit that came up in the spring.

        They blame lower-than-expected revenue because of the slow economy, rising Medicaid costs and a court-ordered fix of the state's school-funding system.


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