2005-02-11 / Top News

Budget Cuts Loom Over State Park Commission

By Ryan Schlehuber

Note: Zone A –– between business section and any hotel; Zone B –– between Grand Hotel and Mission Point Resort; Zone C –– between business section and Harrisonville or West Bluff; Zone D –– between business section and East Bluff, Fort Mackinac, or Hubbard’s Annex; Zone E –– between business section, Stonecliffe cemeteries, Great Turtle Park, or airport; Zone F –– between business section and Woodbluff subdivision or Wawashkamo; Zone G –– between business section and British Landing, Silver Birches, the city power plant, or points in the city of similar distance.Note: Zone A –– between business section and any hotel; Zone B –– between Grand Hotel and Mission Point Resort; Zone C –– between business section and Harrisonville or West Bluff; Zone D –– between business section and East Bluff, Fort Mackinac, or Hubbard’s Annex; Zone E –– between business section, Stonecliffe cemeteries, Great Turtle Park, or airport; Zone F –– between business section and Woodbluff subdivision or Wawashkamo; Zone G –– between business section and British Landing, Silver Birches, the city power plant, or points in the city of similar distance. The Mackinac Island State Park Commission is bracing for Governor Jennifer Grandholm’s budget message Thursday, February 10, in which it expects some or all of its legislative appropriation to be cut for the fiscal year beginning October 1.

“Both executive and legislative branches are aiming for a deficit reduction plan that doesn’t cut across the board by percentage, but instead reviews each agency and program and determines budgets by what is called zero-based budgeting or outcome-based budgeting,” said Commission Chairman Dennis Cawthorne at the Commission’s meeting in Lansing January 28. “There are indications that some legislators are calling for elimination of general funds for a number of state departments and agencies. One, for example, is the Mackinac Island State Park Commission.”

Zero-based budgeting requires a government program be justified in each fiscal year, as opposed to simply basing budgeting decisions on a previous year’s funding level. It is argued to be one way of controlling unnecessary spending.

Mr. Cawthorne said legislators are heavily critiquing departments thought not to be critical during times of financial stress, such as museums and parks.

“I think governmental leaders will find that (zero-based budgeting) is not quite the magical cure-all,” Mr. Cawthorne predicted. “There is some merit to this approach, but it is something that has to be gradually implemented.”

At the meeting, Mr. Cawthorne advised commissioners to pay particular attention to upcoming issues and debates in Lansing.

“The rumors of such cuts, I feel, personally, are impractical and very counterproductive to the economic health of the Straits region,” he said. “This is a major influence on our economic tourism industry for the future on Mackinac Island, and in Mackinaw City and St. Ignace.”

The commission and its agency, Mackinac State Historic Parks, which maintains and operates five historic sites in Mackinaw City and on Mackinac Island, receives an annual state appropriation, currently $1.49 million.

For at least the past four years, the commission’s general fund has been cut. This year’s expected appropriation, said Mackinac State Historic Parks Public Relations Officer Tim Putman, will be 25 percent less than the commission’s 2000 appropriation, which was $2.1 million.

To supplement its programs, the Park aggressively pursues grants and donations, this year securing more than $444,000, including a $133,550 grant for a new exhibit in Fort Mackinac’s post hospital, which is the state’s oldest hospital building.

If the state appropriation is cut, the commission may be forced to rely solely on revenue from admissions and fees (carriage licensing and motor vehicle permits, for example). The general fund appropriation, said Mr. Cawthorne, makes up about half of the commission’s annual revenue.

“We wouldn’t shut down completely, but what do you do to replace that funding?” said Mr. Cawthorne.

He said the sites’ admission fees are already at a reasonable maximum limit.

“We’re not expecting that the sky is going to fall on February 10, but this will be discussed throughout the year,aaand that may lead into next year,” said Mr. Cawthorne.

The state’s 2005-06 fiscal year begins October 1.

Mr. Cawthorne said he has already spoken with Governor Granholm personally about the issue and he expects park commissioners will do the same.

“We are preparing extensive materials as to why this would be a bad idea,” said Mr. Cawthorne of the rumored proposals to cut the commission’s general funding.

Carriage Service Rates Increase

Commissioners approved the 2005 terms and conditions and rate increases for sightseeing liveries, taxi, and hayride services that include an increase in street sweeping fees and drive-yourself carriage rates (Please see chart for all prices) .

Street sweeping fees were raised from $150 per horse to $180 per horse, attributed to rising labor costs. Street sweeping fees have not been raised since 1998, said Mackinac State Historic Parks Director Phil Porter.

Mackinac Island Carriage Tours operates annually with 363 horses for the bulk of the summer, and also is the contractor for much of the street cleaning.

Commission Supports Area Businesses’ Staffing Efforts

Commissioner Bob Traxler urged the Commission to go on record in supporting any feasible effort to support northern Michigan businesses struggling to fill staff for the summer season.

Many northern Michigan businesses who have relied on foreign national labor for some or all of the summer staff have found that nation-wide quotas for temporary work visas have been filled for the year.

H-2B visa workers can be employed in the United States for up to a year. Many businesses in the Straits area have been using foreign labor since the early 1990s to fill staff positions not filled by American labor, especially as the seasons have been extended into early spring and late fall, when most temporary American workers are back in school.

Dr. Bill Chambers, president of Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, said he has 45 vacant openings that were once filled by Canadians, who are skilled in driving horses.

He said the company is working with Canadian equine schools to bring students into a work-study program, in which they will work for Carriage Tours and earn credit toward graduation.

“We’re gaining one or two people at a time, but we’re going to be all right,” said Dr. Chambers. “The hard part will be having to do a lot of training. That’s what most businesses are going to be burdened with in this, at least for this year.”

Summer Projections

Park Director Phil Porter said the outlook for this year’s tourist season is promising.

Bruce Lynn, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ group tour and special events coordinator, said the number of student groups visiting the Parks’ historic sites has risen steadily in the past few years, but, because of budget constraints, schools now can only visit one historic site per trip.

About 51,000 students visited Mackinac State Historic Parks sites last year, said Parks Marketing Director Greg Hokans, a 37 percent increase from 2000, when about 37,000 students visited.

“Student groups have been a tremendous financial boon for us,” said Mr. Hokans, “however, senior [citizen] groups have all but gone away.”

Mr. Hokans said senior citizens may now buy their her own sports utility vehicle and travel, rather than take a coach bus tour, because today’s health care services are better and senior lifestyles have changed. He said museums and parks have also been hurt by the impact of casinos on group traveling.

European and other foreign travelers are being targeted more now, he said, as they tend to spend far more on their vacations than American vacationers.

Lease Transactions, Use Permit Approved

Randy and Michelle Stuck’s request to transfer the lease for their West Bluff property to the Michelle P. Stuck Trust was approved by the commission.

The existing lease expires May 24, 2006.

The Commission also approved a land lease renewal for Charter Communications for a 20-foot by 110-foot lot near Surrey Hill for use of a satellite dish and a utility building. The property has been leased to Charter Communications since 1991.

Edison Sault Electric Company received a 10 year lease renewal for a 200-foot by 300-foot lot for its service building and storage facility, next to Charter Communications’ lot. The State Park has leased the property to Edison Sault since 1985. The new lease expires in January 2015.

East Bluff cottage owner Holly Mull was given permission to sub-lease her cottage to Joe and Cynthia Milanowski of Las Vegas from July 2, 2005, to July 15, 2005, and from July 16, 2005, to July 29, 2005.

Under new park sub-leasing regulations set last year, cottage owners may sub-lease their cottages only 28 days a year and in no less than 14-day increments.

A two-year permit was renewed for the Village of Mackinaw City, which has a a public sidewalk on park property in Alexander Henry Park.

Mr. Porter said the agreement is vital, as the sidewalk leads many visitors to Colonial Michilimackinac.

Park Commission Awarded $35,000 for Airport Operation Expenses

The Park Commission was awarded $35,000 from the Michigan Department of Transportation Bureau of Aeronautics for operation costs at the Mackinac Island Airport.

Mr. Porter said the bureau is willing to support the commission’s airport operations for this year. Earlier in the year, he said, the bureau was unsure it would be able to award anything, owing to a tight budget.

Annual cost of operating the airport is estimated at $110,000.

2005 Meetings Schedule Approved

Commissioners have set four regular commission meeting dates for 2005. All meetings begin at 1:30 p.m. A meeting Wednesday, March 23, in Lansing is tentative, depending on the agenda. Other meetings scheduled are Friday, May 27, Friday, July 22, and Friday, September 23, all on Mackinac Island.

2005 Terms and Conditions

Rate increase for taxi, sightseeing, hayride, and drive-yourself carriage services

MAXIMUM RATES Last YearThis Year

Sightseeing:

Adult fare$17$18

Child fare (ages 5-12)$8$8

Hayride:

per hour, per dray$240$250

per hour, per dray after 9 p.m.$500$600

Drive-yourself:

per hour for two-passenger carriages $45$48

per hour for four-passenger carriages$55$60

per hour for six-passenger carriages$65$72

Taxi:

(minimum of two fares)

Zone A$3.75$4

Zone B$4.75$5

Zone C$3.75$4

Zone D$4.75$5

Zone E$5.75$6

(minimum of three fares)

Zone F$6.25$6.50

(minimum of four fares)

Zone G$6.25$6.50

Note: Zone A –– between business section and any hotel; Zone B –– between Grand Hotel and Mission Point Resort; Zone C –– between business section and Harrisonville or West Bluff; Zone D –– between business section and East Bluff, Fort Mackinac, or Hubbard’s Annex; Zone E –– between business section, Stonecliffe cemeteries, Great Turtle Park, or airport; Zone F –– between business section and Woodbluff subdivision or Wawashkamo; Zone G –– between business section and British Landing, Silver Birches, the city power plant, or points in the city of similar distance.

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