House Republicans plan to eliminate parking fee plan for state parks
By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio – A proposed parking fee at Ohio’s state parks would be scrapped under the House version of the state budget and the funding replaced with money from a recycling and litter-control program.
The plan to eliminate the recently approved $5 daily parking fee and $25 annual parking passes for the 74 state parks came following a private meeting Wednesday of House GOP lawmakers discussing details of their upcoming budget proposal.
The fees are “inconsistent with the concept that Ohio parks are to be held in the public trust,” Rep. Keith Faber, a Republican from Celina in western Ohio, said Thursday. “We want to encourage additional access to Ohio parks, not discourage it by charging fees.”
The Columbus Dispatch first reported that House Republicans plan to pass their version of the $51 billion budget next month without the fees.
Lawmakers plan to use $8 million from the state’s litter-control and recycling program to replace the fee revenue, said Karen Tabor, a House Republican spokeswoman.
The fees, to take effect in May, were expected to raise about $3 million the first year and as much as $10 million in a few years. The program would cost about $500,000 a year for printing costs, enforcement and pass sales over the Internet.
Senate Republicans said Thursday they were likely to go along with the House proposal. Gov. Bob Taft must sign the budget by July 1.
Taft is concerned how changes to the fee proposal would affect the Natural Resources Department budget, said spokesman Mark Rickel.
“That’s why the priority was to come up with ... a reliable and sustainable revenue stream,” Rickel said.
People who fish have been criticizing the proposed fee since it was announced, said Bryan Wentzel, who runs a popular bait shop a few blocks from downtown Columbus.
Wentzel, 43, said he opposes the concept and also worries it could hurt recreational anglers.
“A lot of people who fish are low-income, they struggle just to pay for the license,” said Wentzel. “I know the state is hurting, but we’ve put out enough in taxes. They are public parks.”
A legislative rule-making committee earlier this month approved the fees, proposed by Taft as a way to provide money to keep up maintenance at the parks following years of reduced funding.
“We don’t like the idea of parking fees, but we also don’t like the idea of our parks deteriorating,” DNR spokesman Jim Lynch said Thursday.
The agency is open to alternatives but worried the House plan could hurt Ohio’s recycling program. The agency has an annual recycling budget of $12.5 million, and provides $9 million in grants to 125 groups statewide that run curbside recycling programs.
If approved, the House plan would take about $4 million of that each year. Sen. Timothy Grendell, an opponent of the fee, said the plan would still provide enough to keep basic recycling in place.
Grendell is sponsoring a bill that would eliminate the fee. He was also removed from the rule-making committee by Senate President Bill Harris for strenuously objecting to the proposed fee.
Outside the bait shop near downtown, bass fishing enthusiast Dan Downing said he could have lived with the fees. Downing, who does construction estimating, also volunteers with the city’s fishing program for children.
“Our state parks are so valuable to us,” said Downing, 58, of Columbus. “When you consider $25 as a blanket fee for a year, I don’t think that’s unreasonable. I’ll go into a state park 25 times a year.”