Iowa parks face staffing shortages
DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Iowa parks are facing staffing shortages after years of declining funding to the state Department of Natural Resources.
Department officials announced layoffs and the dissolution of the forestry bureau in July to manage a $1.2 million reduction in their budget, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald reported .
Of the 68 state parks or recreation areas managed by the department, only 24 percent have two or more full-time employees, according to the Iowa Legislative Services Agency. Nearly 40 percent have fewer than the equivalent of one full-time employee.
Department spokesman Alex Murphy said the agency has 101 vacancies statewide, but officials don’t plan to fill 80 of them due to lack of funding.
“The budget is down to almost half of what it used to be,” Murphy said. “So you see a trickle-down effect in the services we can provide.”
Iowa allocated $22 million to the department’s budget in fiscal year 2009. For fiscal year 2019, the funding request is $13.7 million.
Democratic Rep. Chuck Isenhart of Dubuque expressed doubt over whether the department would receive more funding in 2018. He is a member of the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee for Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Protection.
“We still have a budget hole from last year,” Isenhart said. “Once you take out education, Medicaid and our other mandates, there won’t be much left.”
Murphy said local groups are playing a vital role in keeping parks in running condition. Friends of the Mines of Spain is one of those groups. It launched an online fundraising campaign to help pay for a part-time worker at the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area in Dubuque.
“We realize as a state agency we won’t be able to do as much as we used to,” Murphy said. “That’s where these private groups can come in and raise money for all kinds of things. Ideally, we could do those things on our own.”
Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com