Call to Order and Roll Call
Thefirst meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government was held on Wednesday, June 22, 2016, at 1:00 PM, in Room 154 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Brent Yonts, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Representative Brent Yonts, Co-Chair; Senators Christian McDaniel, Morgan McGarvey, Dorsey Ridley, Albert Robinson, and Damon Thayer; Representatives Kevin Bratcher, John Carney, Leslie Combs, Joseph Fischer, Jim Gooch, Derrick Graham, Kenny Imes, James Kay, Martha Jane King, Lewis Nicholls, Sannie Overly, Tom Riner, Steven Rudy, Sal Santoro, Rita Smart, Diane St. Onge, Tommy Turner, and Ken Upchurch.
Guests: Donnie Holland and Bill Novak, Department of Parks; Phillip Brown and Laura Brooks, Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.
Kentucky State Parks “Refreshing the Finest” Campaign
Guest speakers from the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet were Donnie Holland, Commissioner, Department of Parks; Phillip Brown, Chief of Staff and Legislative Liaison, Office of the Secretary; Laura Brooks, Office of the Secretary; and Bill Novak, Director of Facilities Management, Department of Parks.
Commissioner Holland thanked the General Assembly for its support and for the additional $18 million in funding appropriated for Kentucky state parks. He said the funding will be used to improve safety and aesthetics at the parks, including structural repairs, painting, and much needed interior and exterior upgrades. The work for the Refreshing the Finest campaign will be carried out during 2016 and 2017. Bids must be sought for most of the park projects. About a year ago an in-depth study of the parks indicated that deferred maintenance costs for the parks was approximately $240 million. In the majority of years since 2008, the parks have received only maintenance funding to “keep the doors open” and no funding for deferred maintenance. The $18 million will be a great help in refurbishing the parks. Public awareness of the campaign has already resulted in increased visitation to the parks, especially at Lake Barkley and Cumberland Falls. The national parks are also in need of funds. Deferred maintenance costs for the National Park Service has grown to $11.5 billion and is in the lower billions for the United States Forest Service.
A lot of business has been lost because of deteriorating conditions at the parks. The lodges at Greenbo Lake and Jenny Wiley are out of service due to fires caused by roof leaks and faulty wiring. The lodge at Greenbo also has structural problems. At Jenny Wiley a new cafeteria has been opened in the conference building while the lodge is closed. The conference center at Cumberland Falls was condemned and will have to be torn down. Replacement will cost $6 million and cannot be done now; in the meantime, other rooms are being used for meetings, and a private building in Corbin is available for large groups.
Commissioner Holland’s slide presentation described individual projects that are underway, scheduled, or in the design stage. Nine projects are expected to be completed in summer 2016 (cost $1.5 million), 34 projects in fall 2016 (cost $4.7 million); 54 projects in summer 2017 (cost $10.8 million) and nine projects in fall 2017 (cost $1.0 million). Project costs are estimates. A few examples of completed projects are concrete walk and wall repair at Rough River, replacement of the golf cart fleet at Lake Barkley, and exterior painting of cottages at Pennyrile Forest and Kenlake. Safety issues are being given priority. Concrete repair is underway at Lake Cumberland, and tennis center exterior painting is underway at Kenlake. Other projects that are scheduled, in design, or soon to be bid include repair and reopening of the swimming pool at Cumberland Falls, truss repair at Greenbo, conference center window replacement at Buckhorn, lodge exterior painting at Dale Hollow, tennis center siding replacement at Lake Barkley, and safety railing repairs at Cumberland Falls. Buffet line upgrades at Natural Bridge are in the procurement stage.
Commissioner Holland said that about $5 million of the $18 million will be used to address safety issues, with special attention to electrical problems. Plans are to spend the $18 million by the fall of 2017, with the bulk of the funds going toward makeovers at the resort parks. Estimated total investment at Buckhorn Lake, Cumberland Falls, Jenny Wiley, and Pine Mountain is $2.2 million. Estimated total investment at Barren River, Dale Hollow, Lake Cumberland, and Rough River is $4,885,000. Total investment at Kentucky Dam Village, Lake Barkley, Kenlake, and Pennyrile Forest is estimated at $3,760,000. Estimated total investment for Carter Caves, Greenbo Lake, Natural Bridge, and General Butler is $2,820,000. Approximately $1.3 million has been set aside for campground upgrades.
Commissioner Holland said they are trying to restore a favorable image of Kentucky state parks. Events are being held statewide to announce the Refreshing the Finest campaign. The kickoff event was held at Cumberland Falls on June 2. Other events are planned at Lake Barkley on June 28, Carter Caves on July 26, and Lake Cumberland on August 9. All events are scheduled for 11:30 a.m., local time. He encouraged members of the committee to attend the events and spread the message.
Mr. Brown said that administrative regulations pertaining to the recently enacted public-private partnership (P3) legislation have not been finalized. It is not yet clear what a typical public-private partnership for the parks system will entail. The P3 legislation extends beyond the parks system to other sectors of the Kentucky economy. From the Cabinet’s perspective, P3s should provide greater flexibility to finance park improvements and should facilitate attracting private capital and expertise. The Cabinet will explore the applicability and relevance of public-private partnerships and will only enter into a P3 if it would improve the parks and be good for the Commonwealth and the taxpayers.
Representative Combs commended the Cabinet for its plans to take advantage of P3s for the parks system. She said their efforts will serve as an example to other public entities that are considering the P3 approach. Commissioner Holland again thanked the General Assembly for helping to restore the parks system and begin the P3 process. He also expressed appreciation to the many “friends” volunteer groups throughout the state.
Representative Yonts inquired about Wi-Fi capability in the lodges. Commissioner Holland said that boosters have been installed in several parks and that Wi-Fi is being enabled in locations that are able to receive a wireless signal. Some parks—Pennyrile, for example—cannot access wireless because they are not within signal range.
Responding to Representative Smart, Commissioner Holland said that work in the parks is currently being performed by state employees. For work that is competitively bid, the Department intends to use Kentucky contractors whenever possible.
In response to Representative Carney, Commissioner Holland said that insurance will pay for the fire damage at Greenbo and Jenny Wiley but will not cover the truss repair at Greenbo. He said that some upgrades are scheduled for Green River Lake and that he would look into the issue of parking lot repairs that are needed at the park marina
Representative Carney said that good ideas have been proposed in the past but were not followed through. For example, about six years ago he worked with three professional golfers to produce a TV commercial promoting golf at the parks, but the commercial was eventually viewed only on social media. He acknowledged that funds are limited but encouraged the agency to “think outside the box” when meeting the challenges facing the parks. He stated, too, that success of the parks does not depend entirely on state government. It is also important that local communities do their part in promoting the parks.
Responding to Representative Overly, Commissioner Holland said that specific parks have not been targeted for P3s. The Cabinet is waiting until the administrative regulations are in place before having discussions with potential partners, but some large companies have shown interest. He envisions that RFPs (Request for Proposal) will be for individual properties rather than the entire parks system. The state of Tennessee issued a $55 million RFP for its park system as a whole and received no bids.
Representative Overly asked whether there has been discussion about closing or selling any of the parks. Commissioner Holland said no parks have been targeted for closure at this time. Before considering action that severe, the Cabinet would want to evaluate the potential of P3s and try to increase visitation at the parks. While the parks have never made a profit, so far as he knows, they do have a positive economic impact on local communities and the Commonwealth. Data estimates the economic impact to be approximately $889 million per year, with $92 million of that going into the state treasury.
When Representative Nicholls asked about the timeline for repairs and renovation at Greenbo Lake, Mr. Novak said design is complete for the Greenbo projects. They are to be bid soon, and he estimates that construction will be finished by the end of 2016.
Representative St. Onge said she believes the parks system may be able to make good use of P3s. She asked Commissioner Holland to provide the committee with a one-page map showing all the parks, and he agreed to do so.
Representative Imes commended Commissioner Holland for doing an outstanding job. He pointed out that Land Between the Lakes (LBL), one of the most visited tourist attractions in the state, is located near three Kentucky state parks. He asked whether the Department of Parks plans to work with the National Park Service and the U. S. Forest Service to promote reciprocal advertising of Kentucky’s state and national parks. Commissioner Holland said that is a good idea. Already there have been meetings with Tina Tilley, Area Supervisor for the LBL National Recreation Area, and a few weeks ago Department of Parks staffer LaDonna Miller and LBL’s marketing manager agreed to help each other on web advertising for LBL and the surrounding state parks. In a meeting with four national park managers who are involved in Kentucky, agreement was reached to trade brochures advertising two Civil War historic sites—Fort Donelson National Battlefield in Dover, Tennessee, and Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site in Perryville, Kentucky.
Representative Imes said that public service announcements (PSAs) might provide another opportunity to publicize the Refreshing the Finest campaign. He suggested that committee chairs, where practicable, schedule some legislative meetings at state parks. He said he and his wife have committed much of their vacation time this summer to overnight stays at state parks. He believes that by visiting the parks legislators can learn more about the state and be in a better position to help constituents.
Representative Yonts asked whether any projects are planned for recreational parks—specifically, Lake Malone, which is in his district. He said the boat dock there has been closed for almost a decade, and the swimming area has no lifeguards. Commissioner Holland said they had obtained estimates of approximately $200,000 to either replace or repair the boat dock, but funding for the boat dock is not included in the $18 million. However, the Department is looking at possible roof repair and campground improvements at Lake Malone.
Representative Yonts requested that the Department of Parks give future consideration to a miniature golf course at Lake Malone. He said funding for the golf course was included in the state budget two years ago but was vetoed. The estimated cost was $250,000. At that time, the Department of Parks indicated it could be paid for from a bond issue, but the course was never been built.
Representative Yonts asked whether there are any plans for needed upgrades to the Capitol Annex cafeteria. Commissioner Holland said that the Department does not pay rent at the other state-run cafeterias in Frankfort but has to pay the Finance and Administration Cabinet $90,000 annually for rent and utilities for the Annex cafeteria. They will look at “freshening up” the cafeteria and are also looking at possible price increases and better ways to buy food and manage inventory to prevent food spoilage.
Representative Combs said that a key concern during development of the P3 legislation was that it might be the last available financial tool to fund needs and services of the state parks and enable all 49 parks to remain open. She said members of the General Assembly believe the parks are much needed. Even though the parks may not make a profit their economic impact is significant to the state and the communities where they are located.
Senator Thayer said that five or six years ago, then Governor Beshear by executive order moved some money from a state park fund for the purpose of building the new outdoor stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park for the World Equestrian Games. He requested that Commissioner Holland report back to the Interim Joint Committee on State Government regarding when that occurred, how much money was moved, and how it affected the deferred maintenance plan for the state parks. Commissioner Holland agreed to provide the information.
Representative Yonts thanked the Commissioner and his staff for their efforts on behalf of the parks and for today’s presentation. He announced that the Committee will not meet in July. With business concluded, the meeting was adjourned at 2:00 p.m.