2007-06-09 / News

Island State Park Commission Responds to Lansing's Budget Cuts

By Karen Gould

Public programs and services will not be cut at local historical sites, even though the Mackinac Island State Park Commission will lose $14,000 in state funding in a new budget agreed to by Governor Jennifer Granholm and the Michigan Legislature and signed by the governor Wednesday, June 6.

The $14,000 cut from the park's $1.5 million state allocation was anticipated by commissioners in March, giving staff time to plan for the reduced funding. Cuts will be made "across the board to general expenditures," Phil Porter, director of Mackinac State Historic Parks, told the Town Crier Wednesday, June 6. Savings also will be made in staff reductions by not filling a vacated position, and through retirements, he said.

"The main thing is we will be able to make these cuts without impacting any public programs or services," said Mr. Porter.

A portion of the agreement that affects the commission's operating budget is contained in Senate Bill 436. The bill, passed both the Senate and House of Representatives May 25.

On Mackinac Island, the commission oversees Fort Mackinac, Mackinac Island State Park, which covers 83% of the Island, and several downtown museums. Mackinaw City sites include Colonial Michilimackinac, Historic Mill Creek, and Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.

The Mackinac Island State Park Commission operates as an independent agency in the Michigan Department of History, Arts, and Libraries.

The commission operates the historic facilities with a $6.3 million budget, with funding coming from the state's allocation, admissions revenue, museum store sales, various fees, grants, and donations.

At the same time the governor and legislators were negotiating the budget cut in Lansing, commissioners were holding their first meeting of the summer season in Mackinaw City.

Mackinac Island State Park Commission, like all state departments, has been operating under 10 executive directives since March 29, said Mr. Porter, in his report to the board. The directives are in place until the end of the fiscal year, September 30, and include restrictions on hiring and purchasing. Park staff was granted approval to purchase items required for operations.

Park staff has been working on requests from the budget office, including making plans for a state government shutdown.

"It's like discussing funeral arrangements," said Commissioner Frank Kelley.

"Our entire income generating bond program cannot legally be shutdown," said Mr. Porter of the argument staff made to the budget office to keep park operations open. "Our revenue bond program is funded by loans we have received by bond holders, and our obligation is to pay those bond holders on a regular basis from the income generated at our sites. We are legally bound to operate our sites and to operate them fully to make sure we secure the income."

The state's precarious financial situation has Island residents concerned over continued operation at the Mackinac Island Airport, said Mackinac Island Alderman Armand "Smi" Horn, who attended the meeting.

The airport constitutes health and safety issues, said Mr. Porter. Park staff has asked the state budget office to add the operation of the facility to the necessity list.

The airport serves as the only transportation source on or off the Island when boats stop running during the winter months.

The state park operates the airport, with technical advice and support from the Bureau of Aeronautics.

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