OLYMPIA — With Discover Pass sales falling far short of projections this summer, the State Parks and Recreation Commission will decide Thursday whether to ask lawmakers for more money from the general fund than planned.
Discover Pass revenues were about $4.7 million short of expectations for the months of June through September, said Parks spokeswoman Virginia Painter. That means instead of asking for $18 million from the general fund for the 2013-2015 biennium, the Commission will consider asking for $27.2 million, she said.
Two years ago, the legislature directed State Parks to wean itself off of state funding, and try to survive on its own revenues from camping fees, boat launch passes and the newly created Discover Pass. In response, the agency reduced 66 park rangers to seasonal employees, and eliminated dozens of positions.
The $30 annual pass has now been required to park in a state park or on other state land for a year and a half, and the agency predicted sales would pick up this summer, Painter said. Eighty-four precent of the pass revenues goes to State Parks, and the remaining 16 percent is split between the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Natural Resources.
“We expected a big surge in the summer, which happened the first year. But it leveled off this year,” she said.
The problem was in forecasting how much money the new pass would raise. “It’s all trying to establish trends based on something we haven’t done before,” she said.
Painter said there are so many factors that come into play that make it hard to predict how well sales will go. But, she said, in the long term, the agency hopes lawmakers will recognize that some of its funding should come from general funds, even if the majority of its revenue does not.
“We’re not going back to a big reliance on the general fund,” Painter said. “But we do think it is right to have all citizens paying something for this system that benefits the whole state.”
She said an August report by the agency found that no states have a park system that relies solely on revenues from user fees, although most do ask people to pay something to use them.
Despite the public’s resistance to buy the new pass, she said, the agency believes eventually, people will change their minds.
“For the first two or three years, some people are going to say, ‘I’m not paying that.’ But eventually, if they love their parks, some people are going to figure out what they are missing,” she said.
Painter said the agency saw a similar resistance when it tried to institute a $5 parking fee in 2003.
“Our attendance had fallen 30 to 40 percent the first year,” she said. But three years later, visitation had dropped by about 15 percent statewide. But just when it was starting to work, lawmakers opted to pull the fee under pressure by some constituents, she said.
Painter said State Parks is now launching a promotional campaign that could help convince people to support their parks by purchasing a Discover Pass.
“One of the things we’re working on now is promoting the pass as a gift,” she said.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512