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Financial Assistance 12


Recommendation

Texas should allow the families of reservists who have been called to active duty to enter state parks free of charge.


Summary

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) could waive the park entrance fee for the families of military reservists who have been called to active duty during the recent crisis. Reservists’ families would be entitled to enter the park free.

TPWD could develop strategies to offset lost fee revenue. TPWD could establish a fund drive allowing park visitors to make donations to cover the cost of offering the free park entrance to reservists’ families. Many of the state parks also have “friends of the park” associations that could solicit donations to offset these costs.


Legislative Changes Required

Under current law, TPWD has the authority to set park entrance fees and waive entrance fees. This recommendation would require TPWD to waive fees for reservists’ families who furnish proof of military activation.


Fiscal Impact

Park entrance fees vary from park to park. For example, the entrance fee for a visitor to Bastrop State Park is $3/person for persons 13 and over, while the entrance fee would be $5/person for persons 13 and over at Garner State Park. TPWD officials indicated that gate figures on the number of visitors are difficult to predict. Park staffers maintain vehicle counts and use these to estimate visitors. However, these staffers charge exact amounts for gate entrance based on passengers in the vehicles. Park officials report that gate receipts are a better source for projecting park revenue.

The fiscal estimate assumes each reservist has a family that could take advantage of free admission. The fiscal impact would be the losses in park revenue from the families of activated military reservists who would otherwise have attended the park and paid gate fees. Increased traffic by reservists simply because admission is now free is not projected as a fiscal impact.

In fiscal 2001, TPWD collected $32 million in park fee revenue. Based on an assumed growth rate of 5.6 percent annually in park fees, the state should collect $33.8 million in park fees in fiscal 2002.

Park fees are comprised of other charges in addition to gate entrance. These include charges for merchandise, cabin rentals, campground fees and other sources. For the purpose of this estimate, gate fees are assumed to constitute 90 percent of all park fees. For fiscal 2002, gate entrance fees are estimated at $30.4 million.

There were 51,026 reservists in Texas as of September 1999. As of October 2001, about 2,475 from Texas are projected to be called to active duty[1]. For this estimate, current park usage by families of military reservists is assumed to mirror park usage by the general population.

The 2000 U.S. Census indicates that there were 5.2 million families in Texas. Families of Texas reservists who have been activated constitute about 0.047 percent of all families.

The annual fiscal impact of this recommendation would be 0.047 percent of $30.4 million, or $14,288. To account for the possibility that reservists currently use the park more frequently than the general population, the fiscal impact has been doubled.

The annual revenue loss to the State Parks Account in the General Revenue Fund for this recommendation is $29,000.


[1] This estimate is based on the president’s original authorization to call 50,000 reservists to active duty.