Board raises Beaver Creek fees
In front of a crowd of more than 30 people during a contentious three-hour meeting, the Hill County Park Board Monday raised the fees of many activities on the park, with split votes on every issue including leaving some fees unchanged.
The board also approved revised regulations overseeing cabin leases and cattle grazing on the park.
Board member Mel Gomke started the discussion on the rates charged for cabin leases, grazing cattle, reserving campsites, buying park permits and harvesting hay on the park by saying he thought the rates should be left alone and locked in for a few years.
Gomke said that, especially in a time when the nation is trying to recover from an economic recession, the cost to people using the park shouldn't be raised.
"I'm voting no on everything tonight. I think we can work on it next year …, " he said. "Let's do a neutral year. If we run in the red a little bit, we run in the red. "
Board Chair Steve Mariani said the reason rate increases are needed is that the costs of operating the park keep increasing.
"That's exactly why we've got to do this, even though we don't want to, " he said.
Board member Jeff LaVoi, a Hill County commissioner, said people want improvements on the park, especially work on the roads, but that takes more money.
"You can't have it both ways, " LaVoi said.
However, cabin owner Rose Cloninger said the people leasing cabin sites are paying for services — but they aren't receiving any. Improvements to the sites, the cabins, even maintaining the roads and hauling out trash to the park dumpster is done by the cabin owners themselves.
The first topic was on cattle grazing lease rates.
Ranchers can obtain leases to graze cattle on the park from the day after Labor Day to the first of the year, which also provides the single largest revenue stream for the park.
Board member Robbie Lucke suggested the rates — now set at $10 per animal unit month for September and October and $9 and $8 for November and December, respectively — be raised to $11 an AUM for all four months. He said he would like to see part of that set aside in a special fund to be used for expenses related to grazing, such as development and maintenance of springs and fencing.
Board member Larry Kinsella, who also is a grazing lease holder, said he is opposed to grazing rate increases. Many government leases in the state already are lower than at Beaver Creek, Kinsella said.
Grazing lease holder Ted Solomon said he opposed making the rate equal in each month, because the quality of the grazing drops later in the year.
Mariani said he had talked to a half-dozen ranchers in the last couple of weeks, and heard from them that a small increase would not be a problem.
Lucke also said that he heard from some ranchers — who are members of the park grazing committee — that a small increase would be a good idea. The board then approved setting the grazing rate to $11 each month.
The next rate discussed was on haying done on the park. After Lucke suggested creating a committee to do a detailed review of the haying rates and regulations, as had been done in the last couple of years for grazing and cabin leases, the board approved leaving the charge for haying at $12 a ton for now.
"I am with Robbie, " Mariani said. "I would like to see you do some homework. "
The board then took up raising the cabin lease fees.
Mariani said the rates seem extremely low — people are paying more each year to have telephone service at their cabins than they are for the cabins themselves.
"We already know the roads are bad, " Mariani said. "I would really like you to think outside the box a bit and think about the park.
"I always thought it was too cheap, " he added.
After additional and sometimes contentious discussion on that issue, including one audience member pointing out that rates in some areas of the state are much higher, with fewer services, and others saying cabin rates are much lower in some areas of the state, the board approved raising the rates from $300 a year to $350 a year.
Several audience members protested the amount, saying it was a larger percentage increase than the cattle grazing — about 16 percent compared to about 10 percent.
"I just want everything to be fair, all the way across, " Cloninger said.
Kinsella said that, for him, the increase would be about $700 more for the four months of grazing.
The next topic was the cost for reserving campsites at the park.
Park Superintendent Chad Edgar said the issue about raising fees for reserving sites is the chance of losing money in the end by raising the rates too high.
"I would hate to see you raise this one, " he said.
Audience member Cal Long said leaving that rate alone while raising others seemed unfair.
"I don't think one entity should be left out, " he said.
Gomke said he thought a $10 increase was a fair rate, and also could help the county pick up more money from out-of-town people who reserve sites.
The board first voted down a motion to leave the rate the same, 3-4, then approved increasing the reserved-site fee from $40 to $50 on a 5-2 vote.
At Edgar's recommendation, the board left the cost of reserving Camp Kiwanis, which includes the park lodge and cabins as well as housing the park office, at $500 a night for one night and $400 a night for multiple nights, with youth-group or youth-oriented activities given a reduced rate of $300 a night.
The board also approved a new charge for use of the recently renovated chapel at the camp, setting the rate at $100 a day.
The board did approve, on a split vote, leaving the rates for park-use permits alone. The rates remained at $7 a day, or $30 a season for county residents and $40 a year for nonresidents.
After one audience member suggested that the county consider having a reduced camping rate for senior citizens, another jokingly suggested the same for cabin lease rates, to a rush of laughter from the crowd.
Solomon then suggested the same be offered for cattle grazing leases.
"We should have lower rates for older cows, " LaVoi added.