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Gen. Butler Park

Gen. Butler Park among those
to begin to sell alcohol next year

Plan would allow private vendor
to operate food service

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

CARROLLTON, Ky. (July 2010) – As part of a sweeping reform of Kentucky’s State Park system, visitors to Gen. Butler Resort Park in Carrollton will soon be able to buy alcohol by the glass at the park’s restaurant.

Kentucky State Park
System is made up of:

• 52 total parks
• 17 resort parks
• 24 recreation parks
• 11 historical sites
• 19 golf courses
• More than 250 miles of trails
• 15 marinas
• 2,600 improved campsites
• 24 swimming pools
• 11 outdoor swimming beaches on rivers and lakes

Butler is among four state parks to add alchohol sales as part of a new revenue-generating plan, announced in June. The others are Buckhorn Lake, Lake Barkley and Jenny Wiley. All four parks are located in wet counties.
State officials announced their “Financial and Operations Strategic Plan” on June 10 at a press conference in Frankfort. The alcohol sales alone are expected to generate at least $1 million in revenue a year.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear says his administration is determined to rectify a $6 million deficit in the state parks’ $30 million General Fund budget for the next fiscal year. Lagging revenues throughout the state have caused the administration to tighten its belt.
During this fiscal year, the Department of Parks received $35.8 million from the General Fund, including $5 million in one-time money from the federal stimulus program. The Strategic Plan, created by PROS Consulting LLC, would operate over the next fiscal year with just $29.9 million, the same amount spent in 2004.
In conjunction with the 85th year of the Kentucky State Parks System, the parks decided to review their operations to identify ways to improve the existing system. As a result, PROS Consulting contracted with the Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet to complete the strategic plan.

Tim Hibbard

Hibbard

The Executive Summary Report states that “The original intent of the Kentucky State Park System was to stimulate economic development in rural areas through tourism, to provide quality recreation opportunities for residents and visitors throughout the Commonwealth, and to preserve and interpret Kentucky’s significant natural, cultural, and historic resources.”
Budget shortfalls have made it hard to carry out the park systems original intent as the report states that the state park system has declined over the last 25 years due to insufficient funding. In an effort to turn the tables, Beshear’s administration purposes to close all 17 state resort parks on Mondays and Tuesdays during winter months (a savings of $600,000), use temporary agencies to hire seasonal part-time works and cut full-time worker’s hours (a savings of $2.5 million), and contract with private vendors to run food services and golf courses.
The latter idea has some individuals alarmed because it would provide private vendors the chance to sell alcohol in the four state resort parks as early as January 2011.
Before anything can be done, private vendors have to submit proposals to take over the parks’ existing food services and then obtain a liquor license. This idea would be similar to agreements parks have with privately operated marinas.
“This is not something the parks would do themselves. We want private vendors to run food services,” said Matt Sawyers, Deputy Secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. “We’re interested in looking to see if private operators are interested in managing dining services and golf courses.”
The state has done a lot of budget reducing, said Sawyers. “The purpose of the plan is to create a business model to move the parks into the 21st century.”
This, in turn, would create more revenue in the future.

Shorty Tomlinson

Tomlinson

Currently, the state has 52 state parks and historical sites that generate $53 million in revenue. This ranks Kentucky as the third-highest revenue maker in the nation, only surpassed by California and New York. The problem arises from the fact that this revenue covers only about two-thirds of operating expenses.
The parks bring in much needed money to the local economies where they are located. Many are in remote, rural areas that have limited economic development opportunities.
For Carroll County, Butler Park “is a large part of the community. There are a great number of local residents that use it,” said Park Director Tim Hibbard.
The park employs “50 seasonal and 50 full-time employees,” he said. It is these individuals about whom Carroll County Judge-Executive Harold Tomlinson is concerned.
“What happens to the dedicated employees? Will they lose their jobs?” asked Tomlinson. “It’s not fair to pull the rug out from under them.”
Tomlinson believes there are other approaches that could be taken, rather than privatizing everything. If these operations are turned over to private food services and golf courses, this will encourage what he termed a “package arrangement.”
And if no private vendors step up to the plate, “Then what do you do?” said Tomlinson. His deep personal attachment and concern for Butler Park and its employees stems from the fact that he managed the state park for eight years and is very aware of how the park operates and what type of people it employs. While he was there the park brought into the area a substantial amount of money, he said.
“Kentucky State Parks are very vital to the region,” said Tomlinson. “Tourism dollars are one of the biggest industries there is.”
He suggests that the state look at the many day parks it has and consider cutting back in that area instead of spreading cutbacks only among the state parks. He doesn’t understand why cutbacks apply to park employees but not to employees in the Frankfort offices.
“If they share the pain, their jobs should be cut just as well.”
Tomlinson considers the park system a family-oriented venue. “Personally, I’ve always opposed the idea of selling alcohol in our state parks. We’re sending a bad message to young people to tell them not to drink, but then provide it in our parks.”

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