Budget issues hurting Parks and Wildlife

GUNNISON — It’s no secret Colorado Parks and Wildlife is having budget problems.

When CPW commissioners describe the situation as “dire financial straits” and “financially strapped,” it drives home the message that something has to change to keep the agency afloat.

Thursday, CPW Chief Financial Officer Steve Cassin told the Parks and Wildlife Commission the agency faces a $10 million gap between revenues and expenses each year over the next five years.

“Over the last five years, expenditures have way exceeded revenue,” Cassin told the commission. “The average (annual) deficit from our reserves from 2007 to 2012 was $6.6 million.”

One example Cassin used was that although license revenue went down by about $5.2 million per year, costs went up $5.5 million each year.

Overall, while revenues were up $10.8 million per year, expenditures went up more than twice that, to $28.9 million each year. The outcome was that in those five years, the agency lost $33 million from its reserves.

Some of that, Cassin said, was the agency “initiated an aggressive (habitat) acquisition program” in response to constituents’ demands for habitat protection.

Rick Cables, director of Parks and Wildlife, said the agency is developing a five-year financial plan for both parks and wildlife.

Parks, for the present, is in better financial shape than wildlife, but that could end in the next three years, Cables said.

“By Year 4 and 5 their expenditures will exceed revenue unless we change something,” Cables said. “We’ll make sure we don’t get in that fix.

“But of more immediate concern is the wildlife cash fund.”

If current revenue and expenditures remained constant over the next five years, “We’ve got somewhere around plus- or minus-$10 million gap on an annual basis, if those assumptions hold and if we don’t do anything. We can’t live with that.”

Cables said the agency is developing several budgeting alternatives, all of which focus on controlling expenditures.

It will be two-part, one beginning with the fiscal year starting July 1 and the other, more in depth, starting July 1, 2014.

The first immediate step, said Jeff Versteeg, assistant director for research, policy and planning, would save about $1 million annually by leaving 20 to 30 positions vacant.

Other steps to be taken immediately include:

■ Cut grant funding to outside programs by about $1 million per year.

■ Put a 5 percent hold on all agency operating budgets, about $1.5 million savings.

■ Use some of the Habitat Stamp money for O&M on agency properties.

Verteeg said the committee he heads will have three long-range alternatives ready by September with a final version ready for approval in November.

One alternative may include an across-the-board budget cut, which Cables said he isn’t sure he can support.

“I’m not a fan of making everyone take the same reduction,” Cables said of the 10 percent across-the-board alternative. “This requires more thought than that. To assume that every program is co-equal is probably not where we are going to end up.

“But we’ll throw it out for the benefit of what it will look like.”

As the other alternatives get developed, and Cables said there may well be more than three, the focus will be on what is “mission critical.”

The agency has “to get down to what’s core, what’s essential to the delivery of the mission,” he said. “Taking care of the resource and making sure we are meeting the customers’ needs” are key.

“To me, this is very doable thing,” Cables said. “We can close this gap and get onto really solid financial footing.”


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