2005-07-30 / News

Island State Park Commission Looks for Fund Restoration

Park Can Keep Revenue from Certain Fees
By Karen Gould

The Mackinac Island State Park Commission believes there will be strong support to restore some state funding for the agency’s 2006 budget, when Legislators in Lansing work out the details of the state budget for the new fiscal year, which begins October 1. Chairman Dennis Cawthorne, who has been working with House leaders, told commissioners meeting Friday, July 22, at Fort Mackinac, that he doesn’t expect final budget approval until September, however.

The entire $1.5 million allocated by the state to Mackinac State Historic Parks in 2005 was removed earlier this year in a proposal from Governor Jennifer Granholm, which suggested the money could be made up with unspecified new fees and funding.

The House of Representatives passed a budget bill June 8 that did not include park funding, a Senate bill passed June 15 did include the appropriation. The House and the Senate now must come to an agreement on the entire state budget, including the Park’s funding.

The State Park’s total budget this year is $5.7 million.

Some good news, relayed by Director Phil Porter, is that the agency can retain some of the revenues it has been sending to the state treasury in Lansing, according to the commission’s legal counsel, Assistant Attorney General James Riley. The Commission has always received that money back, but could never draw interest on it. Now, Mr. Porter said, except for airport and licensing fees, the park can deposit operations income directly and reap the benefits of control and interest.

In another legal matter, Attorney Mark Matus of the State Attorney General’s office, who attended the meeting, reported to commissioners that Mr. Riley is drafting legislation to allow the Mackinac Island State Park Commission to sell surplus property in its collections, as well as real estate.

“Oddly enough, said Mr. Cawthorne, “we have all sorts of powers of acquisition, but no powers of disposal. He said once the draft is prepared, commissioners would be asked to approve it before sending it to the state legislature.

“We have enormous collections and there probably are redundancies or other things in there that maybe aren’t necessary.

The flexibility would be nice to have and then we could use the proceeds to acquire new objects,” said Commissioner Richard Manoogian.

“The statutory change that is being proposed is for surplus property and not to be confined to the lands,” said Mr. Cawthorne.

There is no intent to dispose of any land on Mackinac Island, he said.

Mr. Porter also advised commissioners that the soft tourism market this summer has affected overall attendance to all Mackinac State Historic Park sites, which are down by 3.09 percent. Helping to balance the negative figures was a increase in attendance income, which has seen a 3.41 percent increase. Attendance so far is up over last year at Fort Mackinac and Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, while Historic Mill Creek and Colonial Michilimackinac attendance is down. Museum store sales also are down, just under three percent from last year.

In other business, commissioners were advised on new museum programs, park operations, and marketing and development.

Commissioners also thanked former Commissioner Bob Traxler and congratulated Mayor Margaret Doud on 30 years of service to the Island.

Park archaeologists at Colonial Michilimackinac continue their work on House Seven and, as with other excavations at Michilimackinac, the root cellar is providing artifacts like a butcher knife blade and a half penny dating from 1729 to 1754, which is the first coin found since 1979.

A $135,000 grant is helping fund a new exhibit for Fort Mackinac. The project, “Military Medicine at Mackinac,” is in the planning stages and will be in the 1828 Post Hospital at the Fort. The exhibit will compare and contrast 19th and 21st century medical practices. Common ailments and cures of Fort Mackinac soldiers will be a part of the exhibit, along with information about the Fort’s surgeons.

Phase two of the restoration of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse is wrapping up with the completion of a fence and gates and the painting of the lighthouse barn.

Mackinac Island Airport is scheduled to have work done runway. Trees will be trimmed or removed at the airport approaches.

Mackinac Associates membership revenues are up 22 percent over last year. Mr. Porter said the increase is mostly because many members have been upgrading their membership level.

Commissioners approved a request from Grand Hotel to allow the sale of spirits after 5 p.m. at the Tea Room at Fort Mackinac. The Tea Room evening dinner attendance has doubled since the beginning of the season, Mr. Porter said.

Smithsonian Magazine and the Tourism Cares for Tomorrow organization has notified Mackinac State Historic Parks that it is one of the top 10 finalists for the annual Sustainable Tourism Award. The Parks were chosen from more than 50 applications submitted from all over the world.

Commissioners approved a 20-year lease with the City of Mackinac Island for Great Turtle Park. The annual rent is $1.

A resolution thanking former Commissioner Bob Traxler, who served from May 2000 through April 2005, was approved by commissioners. Commissioners specifically noted his diligent work to secure federal support for several Mackinac Island projects, including the construction of the Mackinac Island Public Library and the restoration of the Stuart House and American Fur Company Warehouse.

Commissioners also approved a resolution congratulating Mayor Margaret Doud for her 30 years of service to Mackinac Island, specifically noting her tireless work to maintain the historic integrity of the Island.

Commissioners re-elected all previous officers. Dennis Cawthorne will remain as chairman, as he has since 1991, making him the person to hold the gavel the longest. Karen Karam will continue as vice-chair and Audrey Jaggi will continue as secretary.

Other commissioners are Frank Kelly, Richard Manoogian, and Laurie Stupak.

Dr. William Anderson, director of the Department of History, Arts and Libraries, also attended the meeting.

The next Commissioners meeting is scheduled for September 23 on Mackinac Island.

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