Push for Arizona parks privatization

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A privatization push is just one of several proposals to keep Arizona's State Parks running amid tight budget times.

Warren Meyer of recreation resource management, knows he might have a tough sell convincing the public that their parks might be better managed, privately.

"I think they are worried a private company is going to try to make their money building condos.  The first thing we always get is you are going to put a McDonalds in front of Old Faithful, right," said Warren Meyer from Recreation Resource Management.

But Meyer says that is not what he wants to do.

"And one of the first things I tell them is I have no desire to change the character and facilities of this park," said Meyer.  "That is how we make our money. Is running parks exactly to the character the public wants."

Meyer says contracts with the state would be modeled after those he already has with the forest service, where he collects gate fees then handles all management and maintenance.  For an example he runs nearly all the forest service campgrounds around Oak Creek.

But if he can make money off entrance fees, why can't the Parks Department?

"We have a substantially different labor model," said Meyer.  "We hire different people, often they are lower cost to do the tasks that can be done at a lower cost way."

And while Meyer says he can put more of his staff in park, it could mean further lay-offs of state parks employees, something they've already dealt with over the last several years.

Another, concern about privatization is that small parks would get short changed.

"What they do is bundle multiple parks in a certain region together. They bundle large parks and small parks. And we are happy to run that whole package," said Meyer. "And so you run the small sites like the larger ones the same way, because your reputation is always on the line."

On long term contracts, Meyer says he also invests in infrastructure on items state lawmakers have consistently slashed from the parks budget.

"Every year in the Sedona area, in Oak Creek Canyon we put $200,000 every year into the maintenance and improvement of the facilities," said Meyer.

The parks department has not taken an official stance on private operation, but has agreed to look at proposals and Meyer believes that is a positive step for everyone.

"So I think there are a lot of different possibilities I run many campgrounds and parks on one year contracts, so it is entirely possible they could try a shorter term contract and risk reduce," said Meyer.

Privatization does not mean these companies own the land.  The state will still own it, but how the parks are operated would depend on how the contracts are written.