Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Higher Park Fees Posed for Tourism Budget Hike

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Higher Park Fees Posed for Tourism Budget Hike

Article excerpt

Increased state park fees would be one component of a proposed package to fund an $8.8 million budget hike request for the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation.

Jim Thomas, the department's acting executive director, said the money could be obtained from his recommended cutbacks, reallocations and income generating mechanisms, resulting in a standstill budget with respect to state appropriations.

During a meeting Monday of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations and Budget, Chairman Jim Hamilton, D-Poteau, asked Thomas whether it might be more appropriate to try and recover missing funds reported in a recent audit of the department. He also asked Thomas if any embezzlement charges were filed against department employees.

Thomas said there was no evidence so far that anyone was guilty of embezzlement of state funds as a result of the audit, although there were reports of missing money. He said the filing of embezzlement charges would be done by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation with the district attorney, and if there were to be any charges, that would have taken place by now or would come forth very shortly.

The tourism department's budget for the current fiscal year was $25.38 million. Subtracting $1.6 million for one-time capital improvement projects, that makes a base budget of $23.78 million. Adding the $8.8 million of "needs" cited by Thomas makes a total budget request of $32.6 million, but Thomas said the $8.8 million increase could be gotten from other ways besides a direct, general revenue appropriation.

What Thomas wants is $1.19 million for finance and accounting employees, data processing equipment and employees, management training and other items to sharpen up the agency's accountability. For environmental compliance, $1.2 million is requested.

Other items are expansion and improvement of Beavers Bend State Park, $1.7 million; park equipment, $2.6 million; Lake Murray spillway work, $350,000; Quartz Mountain 20-room complex, $500,000; U. …

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