Public-Private Partnership For State Parks?
Public-private partnerships like those used by the U.S. Forestry Service could be the model for Oklahoma to run state parks more efficiently, the fiscal policy director for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs told lawmakers today.
Jonathan Small, OCPA fiscal policy director and a certified public accountant, said privatizing some park operations is one of the few things the federal government has done right.
“One of the things the federal goernment has done right is outsource the complete operation of many U.S. Forestry Service federal parks,” Small said. “The U.S. Forestry Service has approximately 300 private concession contracts fully operating hundreds of parks throughout the United States. In many cases, these privatization arrangements have resulted in savings of millions of dollars to states and the federal government."
Rep. Leslie Osborn said with legislative efforts to reduce the size of state government, privatization is a good tool to avoid elimination of a program or state-owned asset.
“The private sector can run these state parks better than our state government and save taxpayers money that they would probably put to better use,” Osborn said. “I think our state needs to move towards public-private partnerships to run its parks.”
More than 11 million people visited state parks in 2010 and more than 79,000 rounds of golf were played at state golf courses, according to the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department’s presentation.
The study also focused on the location of state parks. After Oct. 1, 2011, there will be 35 state-run parks. Ten of these parks are located west of Interstate 35, while 25 parks are located east of the interstate. Only six of the parks are located in the six most populous Oklahoma counties.
The state ranks 22 out of 50 states in parks per capita. State golf courses are 81 percent self-sufficient, but the tourism agency is working to make them 100 percent self-sufficient.
Osborn and Small both praised current Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department Director Deby Snodgrass for her efforts to make the operation of state parks more efficient.
“I appreciate the steps Director Snodgrass has taken to reduce costs,” Osborn said. “With Director Snodgrass’s strong leadership, it should be easy for lawmakers to work with her in finding ways to improve the efficiency of the state park system.”
“Director Deby Snodgrass and the OTRD should be commended for their leadership and effort to operate state parks in an efficient manner that minimizes the use of taxpayer dollars. Increased privatization can add to the success and stewardship that is taking place at the OTRD thanks to the new leadership of Director Snodgrass,” Small said.