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State Parks to issue 160 layoff notices after Discover Pass sales lag

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Dec. 6, 2011 at 3:34 pm with No Comments »
December 6, 2011 3:36 pm

The State Parks and Recreation Commission plans to issue layoff notices to nearly a third of its full-time staff as it responds to lagging Discover Pass sales.

Most of the 160 eliminated positions will be replaced with seasonal jobs, which might be filled by the same employees but only for about five months of the year.

Fewer people than expected are buying the parking pass that lawmakers required for state recreational lands. The parks agency now projects the Discover Pass will bring state agencies $23.8 million less than the $64.2 million it originally predicted.

Most of that drop-off affects parks. The commission today agreed to bridge the agency’s roughly $14 million shortfall over the next year and a half by dipping into reserves and making $11 million in cuts.

“We’re not giving up on the Discover Pass, saying it’s a failure or anything,” said the acting deputy director of parks, Ilene Frisch. “It’s a brand new program that hasn’t had time to gel yet.”

But officials have to cut in order to cope because the parks agency was cut off from the state’s general fund this year with the exception of some bridge money. And commission members decided they shouldn’t close parks at a time when they are trying to convince people to pay to use them.

Parks spokeswoman Virginia Painter called the cuts “pretty devastating” to an agency with 518 year-round employees.

Fewer workers will mean less frequent maintenance in the parks, she said. “We’re not going to be as well cared for. We’re just really trying to hold things together so we can be stronger later.”

About two-thirds of the year-round field positions being eliminated will be replaced with seasonal jobs.

In addition, up to 15 staff at park headquarters and up to 25 staff in regional offices will receive layoff notices, Frisch said. Some may be rehired in different positions.

The commission also agreed to draw its three months worth of reserve down to about two months, and to reduce spending on equipment and office leases.

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