You’d probably have to be living under a rock somewhere to have missed the fact that State Governments are in peril as a result of the economic recession. Virginia gets most of its General Fund money from sales taxes and the state income tax. With folks spending more conservatively and so many folks out of work, both of those revenue sources are not performing at a level to meet state expenses. Additionally state services like unemployment benefits and food stamps continue to place more demands on state coffers.
The state tightens its belt by cutting back on funding for state services like, for instance, Virginia’s State Parks. Our parks receive the money we need to operate from a combination of Virginia’s General Fund and our own earned revenue from our visitors. Last year we were able to implement cuts and keep our parks to the standards that our customers expect. I think we have done a great job with that. Other park systems were not so lucky. Some of the measures we take to make ends meet with less state funding is to postpone routine maintenance, replacing equipment, filling all of our jobs. You can do some of those things for a while, but eventually you get to the point where you can’t cover up deficiencies.
Since we are here to serve the public, we want to make you, our customer happy. So we get really worried when our support reaches a level when we have a hard time maintaining the parks in a way that our guests expect. The other very real concern is that if we don’t make you happy, you won’t come. Unlike every other state service, our customers do not have to spend their vacation or day trip in a Virginia State Park. Folks might get mad at the DMV if they have to wait longer because of budget cuts but they sure can’t go somewhere else to get their driver’s license or vehicle title. So when one of your funding sources slack off the last thing you want to do is to jeapardize the other funding source.
Faced with another round of budget cuts, we agonized over how to take the cuts and still provide a quality experience for guests. We considered an across the board fee incease but thought with the economy bad folks needed to be able to visit a park more than ever. So, what we chose to do was to implement a $5 transaction fee for overnight stays in our parks. This fee is also tied to some of the direct expenses that support overall facility rentals – credit card fees, 800 number fees, and fees from the vendor for the overnight inventory and reservation system. We already charge a $4 fee for web reservations since we pay ReserveAmerica that fee to support and maintain the web reservation system. For web reservations, the fee will go up $1 for a total of $5. The transaction fee will also be charged to customers who arrive at the park without a reservation.
We know this will make many of our customers unhappy. Please know that we agonized over the decision and felt that this was our best approach to maintain service levels given budget reductions. We hope that everyone will understand our decision even if they don’t like it. Please feel free to address questions or feedback to this blog or by email to [email protected].
See also Fees in Virginia State Parks for more information.