Before the Hill County Park Board listened Monday to findings of a committee tasked with proposing fee rates at Beaver Creek Park, board member Jeff LaVoi, a Hill County commissioner, said people need to think about what they have with the park, and what it takes to operate it, before complaining about fee increases.
“It’s time that we all worked together,” he said during the board’s monthly meeting. “We’ve got something we can all be proud of, we can all share in.”
LaVoi, an automatic member of the park board as a county commissioner, also was a member of the committee that talked about possible fee increases. That committee was appointed after a contentious meeting in January where some cabin owners complained about a suggestion that they be charged separately for the collection of garbage at the park.
The Unified Disposal Board that operates the landfill near Havre and collects garbage in Blaine, Hill and northern Chouteau counties now bills the park for collection, $8,500 a year.
LaVoi said that whenever fees are discussed it seems to become a bone of contention, but the fees are necessary for the park to operate.
He said most of the complaints — and most, though not all, comments seem to be negative, he added — come from cabin owners.
“Questions like, ‘What do we get from the lease that we pay?’” LaVoi said. “To be honest with you, it upsets me when I hear comments like that, because if a comment is made like that the only thing you’re concerned about is the 10,000 square feet that you lease … rather than the fact that we’ve got 10,000 acres of park to maintain.
“There’s a lot of things the money goes to,” he said.
State law prevents the county from raising taxes, LaVoi said. Especially in a time when oil and gas revenues have dried up to virtually nothing, that means that if expenses go up, all the county can do is cut services.
Some services, like law enforcement and road maintenance, are required by law. That means other services not mandated — like county parks and the county fair — would be the first cut, he said.
To prevent that, the county has tried to wean Beaver Creek from depending on the county’s general fund, keeping it from counting on county taxpayers to make up shortfalls, LaVoi said.
“The park has a way of generating funds that a lot of departments don’t have, so we want the park to be self-sufficient,” he said. “And we’re there. We’ve done it. We’ve accomplished it, and we’ve done it without any hurt … to the park.”
The money from the cabin leases, as well as other sources like the cattle grazing leases, the park’s single largest source of revenue; fees to reserve campsites; and the park use permits go into the park’s budget and all are used for park operations, maintenance and improvements.
He said much of weaning the park from the county taxes came at the same time that the park crew members and other county departments, as well as local organizations like Railroad Pagers, the Lions Club, Rotary and Kiwanis, have been dealing with two years of devastating floods.
“The damage out there, if you haven’t looked at it, has been unbelievable … ,” he said, adding, now, “It’s better than it was.”
He said work, including erecting new and better bridges, increased handicap-accessibility, a handicap accessible community pavilion, campground and docks at Beaver Creek Reservoir, restoring Kiwanis Chapel at Kiwanis Campground and cleaning up Beaver Creek, has improved the park.
“We have a lot of blessings to be counted, and it’s disheartening to know that a lot of efforts have been (made). We’ve done a lot of good things, and still people seem to just want to grumble,” he said.