Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Finance Committee Meeting
Jan. 25, 2006Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 25th day of January, 2006, there came to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in the Commission Hearing Room of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex, to wit:
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:
- Ned S. Holmes, Houston, Texas, Committee Chairman
- Joseph B.C. Fitzsimons, San Antonio, Texas
- Mark E. Bivins, Amarillo, Texas
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas
- Philip Montgomery, Dallas, Texas
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas
- Donato D. Ramos, Laredo, Texas (Absent)
- T. Dan Friedkin, Houston, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
- Robert L. Cook, Executive Director, and other personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
P R O C E E D I N G S
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The meeting is called to order. Before proceeding with any business, Mr. Cook has a statement to make.
MR. COOK: Thank you, sir. A public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed in the office of Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551 of the Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I would like for this fact to be noted in the official record of this meeting.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Cook.
We have a little change in the order of committees this morning. In order to accommodate some folks who will be with us this afternoon for Regulations, we're going to start with Finance.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Thank you. The first order of business is the approval of minutes from the previous meeting. Is there a motion?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Mr. Friedkin. Second?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Second.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Mr. Bivins. Any corrections?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: You're going to be turning to me a lot if you turn every time I cough today.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Yes, sir. Hearing none, I call the question. All in favor, say, Aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Opposed?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Motion carries. Item number 1, Land and Water Plan.
MR. COOK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As you may recall, as opposed to the Chairman's Charges, we all agreed that the Land and Water Plan itself is the charge of the Chairman and the charge of the commission. We thought it would be good to spend a few months just focusing on that Land and Water Plan again throughout the agency, and I'll try to give you an update as we have pertinent items addressing various issues in the plan.
One, in a way, under the Finance Committee here. I've got a couple of things I want to tell you about, particularly in the mode of conducting business better, doing a better job of conducting business with our customers, and doing a better job of accounting for and being able to account for those sales in dollars. A new Boat Registration Information Titling System, otherwise known as BRITS — and as you know, we love to come up with those things —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Acronyms.
MR. COOK: — BRITS was implemented on January 2, 2006. This new system is used by our headquarters office and law enforcement field offices, as well as a number of tax assessor/collectors throughout the state who do this boat registration and titling for us. We work with them very closely. The folks in IT and AR worked with those folks in those tax offices very closely to come up with a system that worked well for them.
The new web-based boat system replaces the last of our old mainframe systems. BRITS offers a number of advantages over the old system, including the ability for tax assessor/collectors to print ID cards and issue decals for boat renewals onsite, which improves service to our customers throughout the state. That was a real stickler for them. They were doing a lot of the work, but they were not able to give that decal, give that sticker, and they wanted to be able to do that. So we fixed them up there.
Information Technology and Administrative Resources staff worked many long, hard hours on this project and we're glad the system is up and running. It seems to be well accepted.
The state auditors are still on site here conducting their audit of our Fund 9 revenues, a regular process that we go through of audit of the Fund 9 revenues and expenditures. We continue to provide information to them and anticipate being able to share the results of the audit at the next commission meeting. Bottom line, what I'm hearing is that we've got tweaks to make, as always; we've got a little more information that we need to gather and provide; but overall I'm not hearing any particular big issues coming out of that audit, which of course is a good thing.
On another completely different angle of doing business, our current contract started out with WorldCom. I remember the day well that it went to MCI. Now, the last time we had those folks in — we had the leadership of that group in the office about two weeks ago and had a good session with them — now, operated by Verizon. That contract has been taken over.
That system, that point-of-sale licensing system that we sell our hunting and fishing licenses and all those things on, expires August 31, '08. Well, folks like me normally would think, well, August 31, '08, that's a long way away. We don't need to worry about it. The folks who do these things know that in order to have a new system, a better system, a simpler system, in place, and hopefully a less expensive system in place, we need to start now. We have done that, at my instruction. We have started that process of looking at outside vendors and another little option I'll tell you a little bit about.
We have issued an RFI, Request for Information, to private vendors and we have received back, I believe, George Rios told me this morning, like five responses so far. That we will look at and talk to those folks about, about what the possibilities of how they might do business. I want to point out that although the contract with Verizon expires August 31, '08, we have in the existing contract, the ability to extend that contract a year at a time. So that, again, will give us a little more flexibility.
I've also asked our staff to look into the possibilities, the cost, the ability that we would have to develop our own, in-house, web-based licensing system. It is becoming more and more, I think, a reasonable opportunity of a doable process every year. We typically — and Mary can correct me if I get off track here — we typically pay MCI/Verizon about $3 million a year for the service they provide.
Now, in addition to that, the legislature, the last time basically centered all of that kind of business through an agency called the Department of Information Resources. Almost everything we do nowadays, every contract, every action that we take in those kind of areas has to go, be approved by, go through, DIR, the Department of Information Resources. I work with those guys pretty closely. I'm an ex-officio member of their agency's board, attend their meetings, and have been trying to understand exactly how they do business and how they might be helpful to us.
We have formed a committee, an in-house committee, of representatives from each division. The charge given that committee is license simplification. Of course that covers lots of territory, but if we can simplify our licensing process, we can simplify the equipment that's used, and at the same time produce that product, a better product, for less money, that's what we're looking for so we're just in the stage of that. Dr. Larry McKinney is heading up that team of folks that we have throughout the agency. They had their first or second meeting and there are lots of issues involved.
Just to touch on one that you all need to be aware of, because I think you'll be hearing something about it, one of the simplifications that we're looking at is eliminating tags for the hunting license. That's a big one. It's going to be a controversial one, but it simplifies the system, and the equipment that's used, and the possibility of being able to do that from your own home.
I told the Verizon guys the other day when they were in here, I said, "You know, guys, I want to be able to dial this thing up on my phone one of these days and basically have that license right there on my phone. I can pack it with me all the time. I don't even have to have a piece of paper."
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Other states do that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Electronic.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, other states do that.
MR. COOK: It's not a new thing. We've looked at some of them.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. COOK: If we go that route, we'll do better.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Can we get a little presentation of what some other states have done?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Yes.
MR. COOK: We can do that.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Benchmark.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes.
MR. COOK: I'd be glad to. So I wanted you to —
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: If we didn't have to have tags, it would be wonderful in my personal opinion.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, don't some of the states — I remember I was in, I think I was in Nebraska — they just give you an ID number over the phone. You call, give them your credit card number —
MR. COOK: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: — and they give you your ID number, and if you don't call in the kill, then it's a violation.
MR. COOK: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You call it in and they say, okay —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Fantastic.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: —
MR. COOK: We basically do that right now. You can get that number and go bird hunting and that kind of thing. We don't require a report.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Report.
MR. COOK: We don't require a report. So there's all kinds of different ways to approach it. That's what doc, Phil and Berger and all those guys are looking at all those possibilities. Our team of folks from our IT and AR folks went up to North Carolina. North Carolina has a system in place. They went up and spent several days at the invitation of the executive director up there, and went through their system, picked up a lot of ideas, and so, yes, we're looking at that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Don't pick up that idea about closing hunting on Sundays that they have in North Carolina.
MR. COOK: Yes, morning hunting —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, leave that idea in North Carolina.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, Bob, is North Carolina a place where they do everything in-house, too?
MR. COOK: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: They don't have a Verizon there doing everything, do they?
MR. COOK: The basic system developed — I mean, you would still have vendors, like Wal-Mart, for example.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure.
MR. COOK: They're one of the major vendors, Academy, all those folks who work mom and pop shops.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, but it would be a direct connection versus going through a third party?
MR. COOK: It would be their basic home computer and —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Basically, we own the Internet thing?
MR. COOK: Right.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The idea is we're going to make it easy to spend money here and buy your license.
MR. COOK: So, again, we're two or three years out, but you've got to think in terms of when that August 31 switch date hits, we have to have had our system tested and proven by about April, five or six months before. We want to put it in the field and give it a good test. So that's where we are and I wanted to post you on that. We will keep you informed on that one. We're going to have to make some decisions on what kind of routes to take at this date fairly quickly.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Hopefully, we'd be in a position to actually make the change August '08. If we didn't, and we have the right to extend it, is that at a predetermined cost or is some new negotiating needed?
MR. COOK: Well, I don't know. I want to say it's at the same cost. We may have to negotiate with them a little bit. I don't know yet to be honest with you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: How would law enforcement work? I mean, you've got a tag on that horn and you're transporting it.
MR. COOK: That's an issue.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: How do they do it in North Carolina?
MR. COOK: They have a tag, but they don't issue it at the same time. They follow up and mail the tag —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: What's the difference?
MR. COOK: — which doesn't make it simpler.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: No.
MR. COOK: It doesn't make it simpler.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, it makes it —
MR. COOK: You know, there's advantages to having a tag.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Why don't you just write down your —
MR. COOK: There's advantages to having tagging systems —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: — unique ID number?
MR. COOK: There's advantages to having tagging systems if you can keep it simple.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes.
MR. COOK: You know, we like the bulletproof paper and some of those things that are very worthwhile, but they're making better paper now. We can have peel-off type tags that will go right on there. We're going to look at a lot of those options and we will keep you posted. Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: You might have to have a few more telephone operators taking orders.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: That would be good. Right?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Yes. Anything else, Mr. Cook, sir?
MR. COOK: No, sir. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Item number 2, Financial Overview, Mary Fields.
MS. FIELDS: Good morning, Commissioners. For the record, I'm Mary Fields, Chief Financial Officer, and I'm here to provide the financial update. The focus for our presentation will be to provide a revenue and budget status for year end of fiscal year 2005 and provide a revenue and budget status for the first quarter of fiscal year 2006. Let's start with the FY 2005 revenue and budget.
When comparing state park gross receipts as of August 31, at $32.2 million, we are up 5.3 percent or $1.6 million over last year's collections. All of the categories of park receipts exceeded the previous year. As I reported all year, park pass sales showed the largest component of revenue growth, with sales at $3.9 million, a 13.3 percent increase over the previous year's sales. Concession sales were also impressive at $5.3 million, which was 9 percent above the previous year.
Our boat revenue at the close of fiscal year 2005 was at $21 million. This was up by 5.8 percent, or $1.1 million, compared to the previous year. Again, in this area, all of the categories of revenue showed an increase over the previous year. The number of boat registrations was up 3.9 percent. The number of titles issued was up by over 6 percent. We continued to transfer 15 percent of registration and titling revenue to Fund 64, our state parks fund, which amounted to almost $2.8 million for fiscal year 2005.
MR. COOK: Mary, could I inject here because I think it's relevant to the point you just made about the state park transfer. FY '03 revenues, there was about $15 million. We did a fee increase in boat registration to help cover this cost of taking 15 percent to help state parks. It's very appropriate and supported by the legislature. And so that revenue continues to do well. It's very well used, too.
MS. FIELDS: Yes, it is. I'll move on then to license revenue. There's more positive news there on our revenues and sales. As of August 31, at $87.2 million, we were up $7.1 million in revenues compared to last year, or 8.7 percent. If you exclude the Freshwater Fishing Stamp revenue of $4.8 million to be more comparable to the prior year, we were still up by $2.2 million, a 2.7 percent increase over last year's sales.
Again, all of the categories of revenue exceeded the prior year. Combo revenue was up 2.7 percent; fishing was up .7 percent; hunting was up 5.3 percent; and other licenses were up 3.3 percent in this area.
The number of licenses sold pretty closely correlates with that revenue. We sold 4.2 million, which was 34.2 percent higher than the previous year. Hunting was up 2.3 percent. Fishing was up 1.2 percent. Total combo sales were down 4.1 percent when compared to last year's sales. If you exclude the $1 million in Freshwater Fishing Stamps from the total number sold, we were still up by almost 70,000 license, which was a 2.2 percent increase over prior year sales.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Up 34 percent? Am I reading that right, Mary, up 34 percent total?
MS. FIELDS: The total, but that included that freshwater stamp.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MS. FIELDS: If you take that out, we were still over 2.2 percent higher than last year.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: You have to compare apples and apples.
VOICE: It's a dedicated —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MS. FIELDS: The apples and apples comparison is about 2.2 percent higher.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You have to take that out, right.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Another way to say it is the state population did not increase 2 percent between FY '04 and FY '05, but licenses did.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And that's kind of what I was going to ask. Are we ahead of the curve then, relative to selling licenses? What do you attribute that to, if we are?
MR. COOK: I think at best we're —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We're holding our own?
MR. COOK: — holding our own, maybe a little better.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What about as far as combo sales?
MR. COOK: Mary, what is that?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: They're down quite a bit?
MR. COOK: They're down 4.1.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What was the issue there?
MS. FIELDS: The issue there is we actually sold more super-combos than just the regular combo license.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: All right.
MS. FIELDS: The super-combo brings in more revenue, so that's why the revenue was up when we talked about that, but the actual number of licenses sold was down in the combo. We sold more super-combos.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I guess that's where I was getting confused. In other words, where was the percentage growth, dramatically? Was it in your freshwater license? I mean, did that add? You said if you took freshwater license out, it went up 2.2 percent?
MS. FIELDS: Right.
MR. COOK: The stamp.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I mean, the stamp.
MS. FIELDS: The stamp, right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'm talking about the stamp, I'm sorry, not the license.
MS. FIELDS: And actually, in looking at revenue, probably one of the higher areas was in the hunting area —
MR. COOK: Yes.
MS. FIELDS: — in growth.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Just in the dollars.
MS. FIELDS: Yes, in sheer dollars. Yes, sir.
Okay. I'll move on. When comparing our fiscal year 2005 revenue collections to the Annual Revenue Estimates, we exceeded our projections in almost all of the funds as you can see. We collected 107.8 percent of our fund in our Game, Fish and Water Safety Funds, 116.1 percent of the State Park Fund, 102.2 percent of the Local Park Fund, and the Other category is very close, at 99.6 percent. It's very close to 100 percent. That's a combination of multiple funds. There were just a couple that didn't quite meet the revenue estimate. However, that doesn't impact the overall balances. Those still remained intact.
In reviewing our fiscal year 2005 budget versus expenditures — we did run this as of the beginning of January — you can see that our budget was at $280.1 million. On this slide, we're showing a subtotal of $11.6 million still available, or 4.1 percent of the budget remaining. I'm not going to focus too much on the percentages in these areas on the slide because there are further adjustments that need to be made that's going to bring this 4.1 percent down considerably. That's what this next slide is about.
I just want to show you. You recall that subtotal there. We are going to make some adjustments to carry forward some of the unexpended balances in the federal funds. There is $6.3 million remaining there, of which we're looking at several projects. A few of them are sizeable, such as the restoration at Starvation Cove. It's $750,000. That was a multiple year project. We'll carry forward that budget. So we're evaluating all of those funds to see what can be carried forward and we're working with the divisions on that.
And then, on the benefits, while those are included in our operating budget, those are not directly appropriated to us. So that $1.8 million will remain in our cash balances, but it really doesn't affect our appropriation level.
Donations are another area where we can carry those funds forward. We've got about $250,000 there that we're evaluating to carry forward.
Finally, the majority of the other category relates to — some of you all will recall the real estate rider. When our budget was reduced in '05, we took a reduction of $5.2 million in that real estate rider. There's about $500,000 still sitting out there that we're waiting on the Comptroller to go ahead and make that adjustment.
So after you look at all of the adjustments and information that we still need to evaluate, we're down to just really $2.6 million of available funds, which is less than 1 percent of the budget. You know, you can't really get much closer than that without exceeding it. So I was pretty happy with that number.
I also want to clarify here that out of that funding, most of that is Fund 9, of the $2.6 available. Our General Revenue and our Fund 64 funds, our state parks, we had all but $195 of General Revenue left and just a little over $3,000 of Fund 64. So, I mean, we spent it all in that area, in state parks.
VOICE: If I was on there, I'd have spent that $195.
MR. COOK: That's right.
MS. FIELDS: We did the best we could. That's about as close as you can get it.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Can we still do it?
MS. FIELDS: That will lapse, unfortunately, but that's not too much.
Okay. In looking at the summary of budget adjustments, the overall budget did decrease by $20.1 million since the last time I had reported on this back in June. You can see the bulk of these balances relate, or the bulk of the adjustments, rather, relate to these unexpended balances. So we've been looking at this for a while and a lot of this relates to construction carry forward. So I'm not really going to go through all of these. We basically, the majority of the adjustments relate to balances carrying forward. So that's kind of where we ended the year. That concludes my comments on fiscal year 2005.
Let's review the status for the first quarter of this current fiscal year. So when comparing state park gross receipts through November 30, at $7.3 million, we're up 8.3 percent or $560,000 over last year's collections. In reviewing the category of park receipts, again, all of the categories exceed the prior year at this time. The facilities and concession revenues are fairly close to last year's receipts, while entrance fees are up 12 percent and the park pass sales are up 40 percent from the prior year.
The boat revenue as of November 30 is at $3.1 million. This is down by 6.3 percent or $209,000 compared to last year at this same time. The decreases are occurring in all the categories of revenues you see on the chart. The number of boat registrations is currently down by 8.3 percent. The number of titles issued is down by 6.1 percent. We do believe that some of this decline could be attributed to the hurricanes earlier this year, this fiscal year.
We do continue to transfer that 15 percent that we talked about earlier. At this point, at the end of November, that amount is about $409,000 that we'll be transferring to Fund 64.
Our license sales revenue is also down as of the end of November to $56.9 million. We're down $2.2 million in revenues as compared to last year or 3.8 percent. Combo revenue is down 2.4 percent. Fishing is down 15.8 percent. Hunting was slightly up at .1 percent.
We track our license revenue though on a weekly basis. I do want to mention in this area that we are gaining ground. The last report I saw, as of January 18, we had actually collected $64.7 million, which is $1.5 million behind last year's sales. That's about 2.3 percent. So we started out the year, I believe it was close, at one point, close to 11 percent. So we're really gaining ground here and, hopefully, the fishing will pick up with the spring and summer. We'll be watching it very closely.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Ms. Fields?
MS. FIELDS: Yes, sir?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: If I may ask you a question. At this point in time last year, what were you saying in regards to comparing '05 with '04? Can you maybe just remember?
MS. FIELDS: I believe we were tracking fairly closely. I don't recall.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: About the same way?
MS. FIELDS: I would have to look, sir. I don't recall.
MR. COOK: I think, Commissioner Parker, I believe we were slightly ahead of '04.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay.
MR. COOK: You know, I look at that deal, as Mary says, we get the report once a week. I believe it was slightly ahead last year. That was one of the reasons that — and you know, we don't know — but the hurricane pow-pow hit that we had, we think had a huge impact on those sales in September and October. Now, it turns out, as you just heard Mary say, hunting now is slightly up from last year, which was a really good year. So, you know, we've got some catch-up to do in our fishing license sales, but it's that time of year.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay.
MR. COOK: That's the one we're really watching.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Mr. Parker, my recollection is that '05 over '04 tracked ahead virtually the entire year and we were tracking just fine until the hurricanes. Then there's a huge dip.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Well, that's the reason that I asked about it because, you know, that would give us, if you're going to have comfort in having a decrease, at least we've got a pretty good idea of why.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: It's pretty hard to assume that it was something else. You know, you could track the hurricanes and the sales. They follow each other. The good news is that the gap is closing.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: The real issue is what happens in the fishing side.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: As Gene pointed out before the meeting, that's really an issue of rainfall and what happens in the spring.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Sure.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: We'll have to get there to see what happens.
MS. FIELDS: I'd be happy to pull the actual information.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: That's okay. You've answered my question.
MS. FIELDS: Okay. All right. We'll move ahead then to the number of licenses sold. Again, we're at 1.7 million, which is down about 2.5 percent as of the end of November when compared to the previous year. Hunting is down 5 percent. Fishing is down 14.9 percent. Total combo sales are down by .3 percent when compared to last year's sales at this time. Again, we continue to gain ground and we'll keep watching it closely.
Now, on this one, I did go back because I just told you that hunting revenue was slightly up a little bit, but I'm saying the number of licenses sold is down. We're selling more non-resident licenses right now when compared to the previous year. You all know those are a much higher revenue generator for us. So that's what's happening there in that area.
When comparing our fiscal year 2006 revenue collections as of November 30 to the Annual Revenue Estimates, we're progressing pretty much as expected. With 25 percent of the fiscal year elapsed, you can see there we've collected 36.1 percent of Fund 9, our Game, Fish, and Water Safety, 23.7 percent of our State Park Funds, which again, we earn more of our revenue in the park area in the spring and summer — we're just lagging slightly there, so we're looking good — and the Local Park Fund is right where it should be at 26.4 percent, and then you can see the other categories. So everything seems to be going along when comparing back to our estimates.
In reviewing our budget versus expenditures here, again, you can see that our budget is $293.8 million and we have $232.6 million or 79.2 percent of the budget remaining with 25 percent of the fiscal year elapsed. I'm not going to go through this in a lot of detail. You can see that all of the categories are basically on track. We are showing 95 percent of the capital project budget available, but several projects are in progress and this balance will drop as the year progresses.
Our overall budget has increased by $16.5 million since the beginning of the fiscal year. Budget adjustments we are showing were made in the months of September, October, and November, and they're summarized on the slide. The most significant adjustments are the $13.4 million of carry forward of unexpended balances from the prior year. We're going to continue to see that. You'll recall I just reported there was $24 million that we were looking at from '05. These adjustments only carry through November. So you'll see some more pretty sizeable UB adjustments that I'll be reporting to you for December and January. You can see the further adjustments there. Really, the lion's share of it is in the unexpended area. So our adjusted budget, again, is at $293.8 million.
I do want to update you on just a few budget items that I think will be of interest to you. I'm going to start off with some pretty good news for us. Earlier this week we received a letter from the State Comptroller's Office certifying our TPWD, or our revenue projections that will exceed the Comptroller's Biennial Revenue Estimate.
You'll recall we had Rider 27 in our section of the General Appropriations Act. That allows the department to access additional appropriation authority should the revenues exceed the Biennial Revenue Estimate. So this certification, or basically it's called a finding of fact, means that we'll be able to use an additional $4.9 million in Fund 64 to meet critical needs in state parks this year and we've got an additional $3.6 million in Fund 9 that will be used to fund unmet needs, with $1.3 million specifically earmarked for law enforcement.
We're really relieved that, or I am any way, that this additional revenue estimate has been approved because we were counting on the Fund 64 revenue to balance the state park's budget. With these additional revenues, we will not need to make any further operational reductions or lay off any additional parks staff. The revenue will not restore any operations that have already been reduced to balance the budget, but it will prevent us from making any additional reductions.
And then, the next bullet there, we are planning to make our mid-year budget adjustments. Typically, we re-evaluate our budget in February and make our adjustments around the first part of March. We will budget these additional appropriations that I just talked about and we will reallocate budgeted funds that can result from salary lapses that occur when positions are not filled and that sort of thing. So we're going to be working on that pretty hard here in February.
Finally, we have kicked off our strategic planning process to update the Natural Agenda for fiscal years 2007 through 2011. We plan to start the process for preparing our next Legislative Appropriations Request for fiscal years 2008 and 2009. It always seems to me like we just get one session done and we're already rolling into the next one. So we'll begin evaluating that request at this point.
MR. COOK: I think we started a couple, three weeks ago.
MS. FIELDS: Well, we have, that's true, but as far as really putting the numbers together, we're beginning to prepare for that. Of course, we have been discussing that. You're correct, Mr. Cook.
I have added this last slide actually at Commissioner Holmes' request to update all of you on our estimated fund balances at the end of fiscal year 2006. These are estimates for Fund 9 and Fund 64. You can see we start off with the beginning balances. That basically considers all of our obligations. And then, we add our estimated revenues, subtract our estimated deductions, which is basically what's been appropriated to us, to come to our ending fund balance.
Since we just received that additional appropriation authority to spend that revenue that I just mentioned, we are going to go ahead and make that reduction because we will spend those funds. So you see a reduction there to adjust for that revenue. That leaves us an adjusted ending fund balance in Fund 9 at $38.7 million and $14.1 million in Fund 64. These balances reflect the estimated cash basically that we estimate will be in that fund at the end of the year, but bear in mind these funds are not appropriated to us. They're just sitting in the fund.
I thought I should also note that the Comptroller's Office, toward the middle to the end of last session, did mention that they were looking for $31.1 million in Fund 9 and $6.9 million in Fund 64, basically to balance the state budget, out of those balances.
If there aren't any questions, that concludes what I have to say.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Thank you, Mary. Let me see if I can emphasize that point. Our fund balances that were supplied by our constituents through user fees, 80 percent of the Fund 9 balances are being used to balance the budget, 80 percent of those, and roughly half, 49 percent, out of the parks budget. They were paid by our constituents.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right. They were user fees for specific use.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Right. Now —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Under the assumption that they go directly to fish and wildlife.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. That's what people think they're doing and they're going into the general fund to balance the budget.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That are held as an expended —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, that's right. Is that how they do it? They hold it and then they count it again?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, they use it to balance.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Now, where do they hold it?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
(All talking at once.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, it's a serious point. I think you're correct, Chairman Holmes, in driving that home.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What would happen, Commissioner Holmes, if we had that 80 percent handed back to us today?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Well, you'd have an additional, actually, it's more than that because we don't have the appropriation authority to spend the other $7.6 million that is in that fund, that is not being used to balance the budget —
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: That you add to the 31?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: — which you add to the 31, yes. It's really $38.7.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: And now you don't have any of it, do you?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: No, you don't have it. It's really cumulative, right.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So there's $38.7 total?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: $38.7 in wildlife and $14 in 64.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Park entrance.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I think that the really critical issue to me is the parks fund, more so than Fund 9. I don't want to treat that lightly because we lobbied hard for increases in our license fees and that basically is not going to the benefit of the bidder, for the people that are actually paying it. And so I —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And for park entrance.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Yes, for park entrance fees. And so I have some difficulty with that. The dire need is to use those balances in Fund 64. One of the things that I've asked for Walt, and Mary, and Gene to do is to give me some very high profile projects that, were they to be accomplished by utilizing some of those funds, would actually prevent that particular area from getting worse, from depreciating more, and deteriorating more, and if fixed would enhance revenues as opposed to enhancing expenses. And so —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Sure. If we offer a better product, people will come.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: There are some very specific examples that if we provide areas in the parks for retirees to camp and utilize facilities that we earn revenues for in the park budget, it will actually enhance the revenue production. To me, that is a very logical and coherent argument that can be made. It doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to work, but it can certainly be made and I think we need to try it. And so that's what I'm going to be working on.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: You're right on track.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: It's the right thing to do, but having said all that we now need to see if we can push it through.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Execution.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Yes, it's the execution part. I mean, we know the projects and Walt's going to provide those to me so I can make that case. We all need to make it. I think all the constituents for the state parks need to be able to make that case. Walt has been actively educating the public and we have an opportunity to do that again. I will participate in a little session in Houston in a couple of weeks because the public needs to understand it. We need to build our constituent base of knowledge so they can effectively communicate that.
I know we've talked about this before, but we're still in the same place we have been. It's, I believe getting, I think it's actually building. The assumption in this is that we raise no more revenues and we spend our revenues. Right?
MS. FIELDS: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: And the park revenues are actually running ahead?
MS. FIELDS: Right now, they are.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: And so while we're only one quarter into the year, it's not an unreasonable assumption to suggest that that fund balance might actually increase.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Because we're running ahead already, yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: That's a reasonable assumption.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: So —
MS. FIELDS: The one thing I —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So there will be more money there that we can't use.
MS. FIELDS: The one thing I do want to clarify though, Chairman, is in that revenue estimate there, it does include that additional revenue appropriation that we just got the finding of fact on from the Comptroller.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Which is wonderful and we're appreciate of that. Thank you, Mary.
MS. FIELDS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Are there any further questions?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: One further. On the money we got from the Comptroller, I saw the letter, were those dollars budgeted? In other words, do we have a place to go with those?
MS. FIELDS: We definitely have a place to go with them.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I mean, I know we have multiple places, but I mean actually laid out in the budget.
MS. FIELDS: We're going to, I think in Fund 64, in the state parks area, you probably have a better idea right now where those funds need to go.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Where you want to spend that money.
MS. FIELDS: We are going to be, as I stated, with the mid-year budget adjustments, we're going to be evaluating the budget needs. We were specified to direct $1.3 million of that to law enforcement.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, that's part of that reg.
MS. FIELDS: So that additional funding, we need to really take a look at and determine, you know, where the best place is for that funding.
MR. COOK: We typically go through the process. We call it a mid-year budget review and adjustment. We will be bringing that forward. Those changes, the implementation of those changes, we will, of course, make through the chairman, through you, your input, and through the Chairman of Finance. So, parks, it's pretty much a stuff shot. We have to utilize that money, the bulk of that money, to maintain current operations, gear up for the summer, for the busy period, but we had planned that. So —
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Recover from the hurricanes.
MR. COOK: — that will be gone pretty quick. We've got a little more flexibility, as you know, in Fund 9. And so we'll look at some projects. We'll look at possibly some match money from some federal programs. We've got some things going on there that are real positive, and I think it's good news, and we'll be careful with it.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Well, is it fair to say, Mr. Cook, that it wasn't necessarily a surprise —
MR. COOK: Not at all.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: — that we received the money. We pretty much knew where it was going to go.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: You'd at least thought about it?
MR. COOK: Not at all. In other words, you know, when we did fee increases two years ago, and talked about it in our Legislative Appropriations Request, we requested some of these funds for various things. We'll go back to that. We'll look at those thoughts and ideas, make what adjustments we can. We've got some other very positive things working that you'll hear about later on. You know, we've got some federal grant money coming from a couple different directions, in law enforcement for example, that's going to be very helpful. We'll get into that more as it actually happens.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Someone give me an amount earmarked for law enforcement, for the Rider 27.
MR. COOK: $1.3.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: $1.3, all right.
MR. COOK: You know, one of the things that I'm looking at from the standpoint of two or three years down the road, we're going to have some significant retirements in all Fund 9 divisions as a result of the pay issues, the positive pay issues, that we got out of the last session. We need to ease into that with our cadet classes. We need to reinstate our cadet classes. We won't have to have big classes, but we need to be consistent. You know, that's probably one of the first places we'll look in Fund 9.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Further questions for Mary?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Thank you, Mary.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Mary.
MS. FIELDS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Item number 3, Off-Highway Vehicle Decal Rule, Tim.
MR. HOGSETT: Good morning. Mr. Chairman, members of the commission. I'm Tim Hogsett, Director of the Recreation Grants Program in the State Parks Division. I'm joined this morning by Andy Goldbloom, who is the Manager of the Recreation Trails Grant Program, including Motorized Trail Recreation.
In this last session of the legislature, Senate Bill 1311, sponsored by Senator Hinojosa, was passed. It established the Off-Highway Vehicle Trail and Recreation Area Program. That Senate Bill 1311 has now been codified in Chapter 29 of the Parks and Wildlife Code.
Today, we're going to be asking you to consider, for tomorrow's action, a rule that would define what off-road vehicles are, and further define where they can be used, and talk about a fee for use of those on public properties. We posted this rule in the Texas Register on December 23, 2005. We got minimal response. We had six people who favored, two who opposed, and two with no opinion.
The Off-Highway Vehicle —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That still amazes me.
MR. HOGSETT: — Trail Recreation Program was established to further the establishment of off-highway motor vehicle recreation sites, to establish and maintain a system of trails in recreation areas for off-highway vehicles, to improve existing trails in recreation areas for off-highway vehicles, and to foster the responsible use of those vehicles.
Chapter 29 of the Parks and Wildlife Code states that a vehicle decal is required to operate
off-road vehicles on Texas public lands. There will be an $8 cost for a decal to be displayed on these vehicles. It will be an annual decal, on a fiscal year basis. They will be available each September 1 for sale. The proceeds will be used to increase off-road vehicle recreation opportunities.
Specifically, the rule that we're asking you to adopt, that you have the authority under Chapter 29 to adopt, is the definition of an off-highway vehicle. That is as defined by that section of the Transportation Code 663.001. It also includes off-highway motorcycles and any other four-wheel drive vehicle that's not registered to be driven on a highway.
Public lands in this rule would be defined by lands that are controlled or operated by the Department where OHV use is allowed. An example might be, we do on a limited basis, allow off-road vehicle use in Eisenhower State Park. Public lands would be defined as other Texas public lands where OHV use is allowed. Some examples of that might be city and county parks. Also, specifically, it's legal to use the stream beds along the Canadian and Red Rivers. Also, we've recently started working with the U.S. Forest Service to see if we can identify some lands within forest service properties that might be eligible to be used for these kinds of things.
Probably, most importantly, it would be on lands where we would provide grant assistance to acquire and/or develop specific sites or portions of specific sites for use for off-road vehicle recreation.
So this is the recommendation that we will be bringing before you tomorrow in terms of adoption of the rule. You can find the specifics of that rule as Exhibit A to your commission agenda item. I'd be glad to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: When you say public lands, that would include the beaches, right, under the Open Beaches Act, TLO?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes, I believe it would.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Does the vehicle itself have to have any, is there any requirements for the vehicle itself before you give them the sticker, safety, noise —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — emission, any of those issues?
MR. HOGSETT: That is not specifically defined in the law.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. So you can show up with any vehicle of any kind, theoretically?
MR. HOGSETT: Basically, yes, and it's not licensed for highway use.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That's what I meant. It's not licensed so it can be — yes.
MR. HOGSETT: We've had the question, for example, about dune buggies, whether that — and we believe they would be required.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Would be required for what?
MR. HOGSETT: To have a sticker for use on public lands.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: On public lands.
MR. HOGSETT: This is only on public lands. It has nothing to do with any use of these vehicles for any purpose on private lands.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: You may have said it, and I didn't hear it, are these motorized only?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Okay.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: If I understand it, Tim, this is not designed to regulate what type of off-road vehicle. It's designed to raise money to support the Motorized Trails Program.
MR. HOGSETT: To raise money for the Motorized Trails Program, but also to begin a process of education of the public about the proper and safe use of these kinds of vehicles.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. So the money —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So long as it's educational, okay.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So the money is available, though, for state match to the federal excise money. Right?
MR. HOGSETT: That's absolutely the case, yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Go ahead and review that a little bit because that is the big picture here. Right? You have a state program that's going to match the federal program that already is accumulating — here we go with fund balances again — that have already been paid in.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Can we get some of those dollars by doing this? Is that what you're saying?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That's my understanding. Is that right?
MR. HOGSETT: I'm not sure I'm following you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: This money can be used to match the federal money?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes, it can.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Is that a one-to-one match?
VOICE: It's an 80-20.
MR. HOGSETT: It's a 1 to 4, state to federal.
MR. GOLDBLOOM: And it's also going to be used for some of the environmental reviews that we need to do before we acquire these properties. You know, some of the properties that you'll see later, it's hard for these
non-profits to put out $30,000 for an archaeological assessment on a piece of property and we'll tap into this state fund to help with those issues as well.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Is this the same mandate we had from the legislature to spend the funds we already had or am I confusing two things?
MR. HOGSETT: To do what?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Did we also have a Senate bill mandating that we spend the money we have?
MR. HOGSETT: We have federal aid that is coming to us. We had a mandate previously that, with the exception of the two stream beds that I referred to, Canadian and Red Rivers, that all off-road vehicle use would be prohibited in those stream beds, but we were instructed by the legislature to, in turn, begin to find places where that activity could occur legally —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. That's what I was thinking.
MR. HOGSETT: — and develop places where it could be done.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That was the —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: There was no money allotted. So this would be some money that can be used.
MR. HOGSETT: The only thing we've had as far as funds that we could utilize previous to this were these federal aid funds through the Recreation Trails Grant Program.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right, that was it?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That was all through SB 1311, right, which is this bill?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: It was.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: That's essentially what we're doing here, isn't it?
MR. HOGSETT: Well, effectively —
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Maybe we're doing it.
MR. HOGSETT: Effectively, it's a user fee that is then put back into the program that the users are supporting and leveraged 4 to 1 off federal dollars.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Tim?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Now, are you saying that we're going to, in so many words, license this vehicle with an $8 stamp and he can put this stamp, or license, he can attach it to his vehicle, and then he can take that vehicle and we have no control over what this vehicle's mode of operandi is, and he can run it up and down public beaches, and we have no control over it?
MR. HOGSETT: This is not a license. It's a user permit, is what it is.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: A user permit.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Let's call it a user permit.
MR. HOGSETT: There is no control today.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What?
MR. HOGSETT: There's no existing control.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: There is no control now.
MR. HOGSETT: And this law provided no additional controls of use. It's simply a user fee, basically.
MR. GOLDBLOOM: And the control is at the state level. The site manager, say, for a park, they determine what type of vehicles, what type of emissions control. On the beaches, the county has that control. All the counties have banned, for example, ATV use on beaches. You can't drive a four-wheeler, but you could drive your big monster truck on the beach if it's a registered, street legal vehicle. This law won't change that. They'll still have the control over what's allowed to be utilized or not on those properties.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I think it's an important distinction that we are not allowing or disallowing the use of a given vehicle anywhere. What we're doing is saying, the ones that are legal to use in certain places are going to pay a fee to have a decal. That fee is going to be used to put back into the program.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Well, those —
VOICE: Leverage with federal funds.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: — decals be available at any point of purchase for a hunting license?
VOICE: That's a good question.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: That's a good question, Mark.
MR. HOGSETT: For now, we're going to fulfill those through the central reservations center that takes state park reservations. We have not considered any point-of-sale of these at this point. Our thinking is that primarily the people that are going to be buying these are dealers and offering them for sale at point-of-sale. It's totally voluntary whether an individual decides to put one of these on their vehicle or not.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The commissioners make a very important point. Let's say somebody's had a Jeep or whatever, maybe covered, on their farm and they decide to go do quail hunting at Black Gap. They pull up there and they don't have it, and we don't sell it at Black Gap, or we don't sell it at the park, that's the sort of calls we get from people who say, well, that's ridiculous. I didn't know I needed it. I'm glad to pay the $8, but they couldn't get it at Black Gap, but I couldn't buy it when I needed it.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Under those circumstances, at that Gap site management —
MR. HOGSETT: I honestly can't answer that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Or any state park.
MR. COOK: I can answer that one.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
MR. COOK: Off-road vehicles are not allowed on the Gap or any other wildlife management area.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Not off-road, but they're allowed on the road.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes, but we wouldn't require it on the road.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, as I read that, they're on the public road, and if it's not licensed for road use, they'd have to have the decal. Right?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: If it's not licensed for road use —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — I'm not sure you can have it on the road.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: On the dirt road, on the non-public road, on Black Gap.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Presumably.
MR. COOK: I think common sense, I hope, would overrule our enthusiasm to generate the funds.
(All talking at once.)
MR. COOK: I understand. It's worth looking at as, I think, if this program grows. We need to see what this program's going to do. Changing the Verizon system to accommodate this, for example, would probably cost more money than we would generate.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right, but the point is that if we're going to pass a regulation that requires something and not make it easy to comply, I've got a problem with that.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Good point.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It's another one of those gotchas, where they go, oh, great, I didn't read the fine print on my Outdoor Annual.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: It seems to me that there needs to be — I mean, I agree that if we want an effective way to reach the public, and service them, and provide the decals —
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: — then we need to make it convenient, yes.
MR. HOGSETT: At this point, the plan was, you pick up the phone, and you call the central reservations center, and they will be able to fulfill your order for one of these from any place you call from. It's our job to be sure that people understand that, know that that's the case, but it's a work in progress. As we run into issues, we'll have to figure out a way to fix them.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: And, Tim, your view was that the primary source of disseminating that information was through the dealer network?
MR. HOGSETT: Well, we think that may be the case. We really don't know how this going to go yet.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I had one thought regarding that — Dan will know better than I do — but it might be, one way to deal with this might be to phase it in on new sales. So it layers in over time and it does come through the dealers. I don't know if that's flexible or not.
VOICE: Good idea.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: What about an inspection point for vehicles? You know, you go get your car inspected, you can get one of these there, too.
MR. GOLDBLOOM: Except that if it's street legal, then you wouldn't need the sticker on that.
VOICE: Then you wouldn't need it.
MR. GOLDBLOOM: So we're really thinking the dealers. Like you're mentioning, we think a lot of dealers are going to buy a book of these things and just slap them on every new machine they sell, you know, as a service to their customer to get them thinking about the bigger picture of more public land, to sell more vehicles down the road, for the dealer.
MR. HOGSETT: The education piece of this is very important.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: It seems to me that in the areas where we allow off-road vehicles, we might want to have a book of these decals.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Then we can make it easy.
MR. HOGSETT: I agree.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Any other thoughts or discussion?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Hearing none, I place the item on the Thursday meeting agenda for public comment and action.
MR. HOGSETT: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Thanks, Tim.
Item number 4, Chapter 59, Concession Rule Change, Walt.
MR. DABNEY: Good morning, Commissioners. I'm Walt Dabney, State Park Director. I'm here to talk to you about some minor amendments to our Texas Administrative Code as it relates to operating and leasing of park concessions. There are two items. One is to redefine temporary contracts and the second is to allow us to remove a specific set amount of liability as we enter into contracts.
The temporary contracts allow us to test a service before we go into contractual agreement for a long term relationship for a given type of service in a park. What we want to do is extend to 18 months our ability to test something.
For example, we're testing in five parks now whether it would make sense to enter into an Internet, a wireless Internet, contract with someone to put that in as an available service in the state park system. There's a lot of people traveling these days that want to stay in touch with grandkids or whatever. And so we want to test that. We may not want to do that. It may be a failure. So what we want to do is test it long enough that you go through the full cycle of seasons and visitation and that kind of thing. This would allow us to do that.
The other is that right now we have a specific amount of liability coverage that is required for any of our concession contracts. It really doesn't recognize that there's different risk levels depending on what service you're entering into. What we want to be able to do is not have a specified amount, but depending on what that activity is, we would work with our legal department here, and our contracting folks, and on a case-by-case basis put those amounts into the contract that better fit the specific activity.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: How do we avoid potential discrimination? I mean, if we're just going to arbitrarily determine that amount, how are we going to avoid that?
MR. DABNEY: There are industry standards for those kind of things.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: So that's what we're going to do?
MR. DABNEY: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Okay.
MR. DABNEY: Lots of people, whether it was a climbing or a livery, horseback, operation, people do this all over the country, and those amounts can vary. So what we would want to do is be consistent depending on the activity with what is the norm. You can really hammer somebody where it's not in a particularly high risk kind of activity —
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Right.
MR. DABNEY: — but you require some —
COMMISSIONER BROWN: You require an excessive amount?
MR. DABNEY: Yes, sir, exactly.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: All right.
MR. DABNEY: Ten comments, three agreed, none disagreed, and seven called us and said, "What is this that you're even talking about?" We explained that to them. So our staff recommendation is that we be allowed to make these changes to the Administrative Code and we would present that to you tomorrow.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Any further questions or discussion?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: If not, I will place the item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Thank you, Walt.
MR. DABNEY: Thank you, Chairman.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Item number 5, National Recreational Trail Grant Funding, Motorized Trail Grant, Tim.
MR. HOGSETT: Good morning, again. For the record, I'm Tim Hogsett, Director of the Recreational Grants Program in the State Parks Division. Tomorrow, we will be bringing back to you a recommendation for funding for a Motorized Train Project in Crockett County near the city of Ozona.
A little bit of brief information about the National Recreational Trails Grants Program itself: It was created in 1991; it's federal aid; the funds are gasoline tax collected on off-road vehicles and 30 percent of the funds must be, by law, used for off-vehicle trail and recreation-related projects.
Some might ask why are we doing this? Why are we in this business? The 78th Legislature enacted Senate Bill 155, which closed most navigable stream beds to the use by motorized recreational vehicles. It directed Parks and Wildlife Department to facilitate development of sites for motor vehicle recreation other than protected freshwater areas.
Also, in the 79th Legislature, Senate Bill 1311 was passed, which created the Off-road Vehicle Trail and Recreation Program that we just discussed in the previous item. It directed Parks and Wildlife to establish and maintain a public system of trails and other recreational areas for use by off-road vehicles. This particular project has a history behind it. In 2003, the Texas Motorized Trail Coalition, who is the grant applicant for this particular project, submitted a grant proposal to acquire 2,200 acres in Uvalde County for an off-road vehicle recreation area. Some of you may remember that, at that point, there were some issues related to access and some environmental issues that we felt, and you felt, were too sensitive, and that we needed to look at other possible sites. So that application was withdrawn.
Since, the Texas Motorized Trail Coalition has located what we consider to be suitable, 3,323 acres of land in Crockett County south of the city of Ozona. This application that we're asking you to consider tomorrow is an acquisition only project. There's no development anticipated at this time, until adequate funds can be found to do that. We think they may be coming back, should you approve this acquisition, to us for a grant at a later time to do the development.
This particular site, the access is off of a paved, two-lane county road, hard-surfaced road, through a neighboring property, through a deeded easement. That deeded easement has been reaffirmed by this adjacent landowner. This landowner is in favor of this project.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Is it Mr. Parker?
MR. HOGSETT: No, it's Mr. Holmsley —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Holmsley.
MR. HOGSETT: — on the left-hand side.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I see it, okay.
MR. HOGSETT: No water on the site. We will, as is always required on any development project that we use state or federal aid, we will assure that all necessary resource clearances will be obtained and adhered to prior to any construction beginning. This site is being proposed for purchase from a willing seller.
We feel that it is consistent with the land and water resources conservation recreation plan in a couple of areas; goal number 1, to improve the access of the outdoors, and goal number 4, to increase participation in hunting, fishing, boating, and outdoor recreation.
MR. COOK: Give you a little —
MR. HOGSETT: Outdoor recreation being that —
MR. COOK: To give you a little orientation here, this is I-10 coming right back out there. There's two paved roads running on this. This is where we're talking about coming in and this is where they would come in through this deeded access —
MR. HOGSETT: Correct.
MR. COOK: — through the Holmsley.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but is the property itself fenced and marked? I mean, I'm now on that property —
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — on my four-wheeler or whatever, do I know when I'm off that property?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That's a good question. That's part of the development plan.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I've already got a call.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I think you made that point earlier. This comes in stages. First, you acquire. And then, they have to get the money to do the development plan. That's when you have the input of —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, but that's where I need to have some understanding.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The day they acquire it, the day after that, can they go out — they being four-wheeler, off-roaders — can they start using it —
MR. HOGSETT: No.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — whether it's developed or not?
MR. HOGSETT: No.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Theoretically, it —
MR. GOLDBLOOM: The bill keeps them from doing it. We've got a guarantee from them that until they furnish us a management and development plan, they won't turn any dirt or have any use out of it.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes, but we could theoretically make that part of the grant agreement, part of the contract, that no use will be —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We've got to do something because that's my worry is that, you know — I mean, they can't control everybody. They're a non-profit and I understand. I would assume they can't control everybody that's got a four-wheeler. How do we control it once we give them the money, I guess.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Mr. Holt has a good point. You can make it a condition of the grant that there is no use or access by the general public until there's an approved development plan.
MR. HOGSETT: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Did I say that right?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Can we do that?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I think that would be a wise thing to do.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: That's consistent with what the plan is anyway.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, right, it fits. I think that's what you're going to hear tomorrow from some of the landowners. I think that presents a problem.
MR. HOGSETT: I think that would further reassure those landowners.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, how you're going to handle, how you're going to control this once they own the property.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That brings up another question. What would happen should they fail to obtain the development funds? Is there a reversion of the —
MR. GOLDBLOOM: Yes, there would be a reversionary clause where the property would come back to the Department and we would have to then dispose of it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Why? Why can't it go back to some other —
VOICE: That's the last thing you want.
MR. GOLDBLOOM: That's just to protect the investment of the federal grant funds.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That is clear? We don't need to add that to the proposal for tomorrow, that reversionary clause exists?
MR. GOLDBLOOM: That would be part of the deed, yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I think that's something that we ought to be, depending on the crowd tomorrow, let everybody understand that this is all part of that.
VOICE: That needs to be spelled out.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: What is the time frame to comply with it before the reversion clause takes effect?
MR. HOGSETT: We haven't gone there. I mean, we haven't —
MR. GOLDBLOOM: Well, it would really be up to the sponsor. You know, in the grant agreement it would state that no use is allowed until there's an approved development management plan. If they could never get to that point, it would be the sponsor that would basically come to us and say, we can't do this and we're giving the property back to you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The sponsor, is that the non-profit?
MR. GOLDBLOOM: The non-profit.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Why would they do that? Why wouldn't they just — well, I guess if it's a non-profit, they're not going to pay any taxes on it?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, the money is coming from the match and federal excise money.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right, but it's paid for. It's bought.
MR. GOLDBLOOM: With this management plan, like their other site they have up near Gilmer, they'll have an onsite manager there —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. GOLDBLOOM: — 24 hours. There's only the one access, you know, off that paved highway. They'd have to trespass a long distance through some of the other adjacent landowners to get on there. So there will be a controlled situation.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: The hours of operation are controlled?
MR. GOLDBLOOM: The hours of operation, I believe, the current one they have, I know they shut everything down at 10:00 at their current site.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Yes.
MR. GOLDBLOOM: It's only open now, I think, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and maybe on some Thursdays. It won't be a seven day a week, 24-hour thing.
VOICE: They're pretty isolated out there, aren't they?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: They have a very successful operation up near Gilmer and the local community around that operation up there in East Texas, they love that. It brings a ton of business in there.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Would you mind bringing that up? Could you speak to that? I think there are just some people who don't know. I mean, I would be nervous if I was a landowner in that area, thinking what might happen, just because I wouldn't know.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: One of the things that we heard the last time was that out of the business organizations in the area, the Chamber of Commerce and the county commissioners and all those people, they were very much in favor of it. They saw it as an economic generator.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Generator, out here, particularly.
MR. GOLDBLOOM: I'd also like to point out that the nearest structure, there's one that's about .6 miles away from the fence line and the others are a mile, a mile and a half, and there's only three structures within two or three miles of that property. The one on the northwest side, he's the supporter of the project.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, he's for it. They'll — been going through his property.
MR. GOLDBLOOM: The other two, the Coxes and the Parkers, are actually absentee landowners. The people that will come to testify don't live on that property. They live in Del Rio, Ozona, and the ranch hands live on —
MR. COOK: They have a headquarters or something there — at the ranch.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. HOGSETT: We went and we wrote registered letters, at your request, to each of the landowners, the adjacent landowners, and they asked for a meeting, which we did in December. We sat down and met with all the landowners with the exception of Mr. Holmsley. He didn't attend, although he is in favor. In that meeting, basically, the landowners and their representatives said that there were no circumstances under which this would be acceptable, or that they could support this project. So I just wanted to point that out. They are all opposed to this project, with the exception of Mr. Holmsley.
MR. GOLDBLOOM: One last thing to point out, all the little white dots there are gas well heads. There's some active gas heads on the property that's proposed to be acquired.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: But the minerals are being reserved?
MR. GOLDBLOOM: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Maybe we want to keep that.
MR. COOK: All right. Can —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: This is an important point. It's that I don't know how you're going to do that with your development plan. I guess that's the next stage, but with the minerals being reserved, that's the dominant estate and they go first.
MR. GOLDBLOOM: Right.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The development of that oil field goes before the development of that off-road park, so I hope they understand that. As you can see, it's not a far-fetched notion of what may happen. That's one of the largest fields in that railroad commission district just south of —
MR. COOK: Can you speak to this Smith ranch?
MR. GOLDBLOOM: The Smiths are a couple of brothers, one out of Houston and one out of Cedar Park here, that purchased that primarily for hunting purposes. They fly in to use the property for recreational purposes. Initially, they were kind of on the fence. Now, they're somewhat opposed to it because they thought that they may have plans down the road to develop some structures somewhere on the property. Again, they're just using it right now for hunting purposes.
MR. HOGSETT: They maintain no residence on that property, no permanent structures out there.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Does Holmsley live out there?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Does he have —
MR. HOGSETT: They are actually residing there.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Where do they actually live?
MR. GOLDBLOOM: So there are really only four adjacent property owners with big properties out there.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. HOGSETT: The public participation on this is that we have held one public meeting and then an official public hearing in Ozona. Both were well attended. Landowners and representatives attended both of those. We've received a lot of correspondence. This 1,650 is now up over 1,800 of people supporting the project, mostly off-road enthusiasts from all over the state, even nationally.
We've received eight pieces of formal correspondence opposed to the project. There's been a lot of local media coverage out there. This is not a surprise or well-kept secret in that area at all.
This is the recommendation that we're going to be bringing to you, as staff, tomorrow. We'll be asking you to approve the acquisition only of this site, with the use of recreation trails in mind. I'd be glad to answer any other questions anyone might have.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Any other questions, comments?
Walt, did you have anything?
MR. DABNEY: Just real quickly. Before the meeting tomorrow, I think it's really important to understand that these folks don't just buy this, and open the gate, and it's a free-for-all. Once the plan is put together, they have an on-site management. They have strict rules of conduct. You don't just — you have to stay on roads and designated trails. If your conduct is such that it's not acceptable from a safety or other standpoint, you're gone. You're out of there. They don't want to be a bad neighbor. They don't let you drink and drive. They strictly enforce that kind of thing. So they have been really good to work with. We don't want to manage this property. We want someone else to do it. It's a very legitimate kind of a thing, but they pride themselves on doing a good job of managing the site and they've demonstrated that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, with the Gilmer site.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: They have a good record there.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. I think we definitely need to talk about that tomorrow.
MR. HOGSETT: Also, in spite of the opposition by the neighboring landowners, if this acquisition is approved, we want to, as a staff, work very closely with those neighboring landowners in the development plan and, to the extent they're willing, take their concerns, their issues, into consideration in the development of the plan.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Any further questions or comments?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Hearing none, I place the item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
MR. HOGSETT: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thanks, Tim.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Item number 6, Hunter Education Plan, Hunter Education Student Fee Increase, Steve Hall.
MR. HALL: Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, my name is Steve Hall. I'm the Education Director responsible for the mandatory Hunter Education Program.
This morning, we have a new hunter education student fee proposal. The current fee is $10. This was established in 1995. The volunteers can retain up to $5 per student of that fee. The proposed fee is $15. We're proposing that the volunteer instructors be allowed to retain $10 per student to recover out-of-pocket expenses.
The benefit of this proposed fee is that it provides the monetary incentive for us to reach more volunteers to teach the courses. It allows the volunteers to recover those increased out-of-pocket expenses. Finally, it allows the staff to develop more convenient delivery methods. This will be the centerpiece of the fee for staff, is to essentially address the convenience issues in making sure we provide enough courses, in a timely fashion, for the public.
We'll be bringing to you tomorrow the recommendation to approve the new student fee of $15. This would be effective June 1 so that we could get it in gear for the next busy season. I'd be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: We talked pretty sensibly last time about delivery methods. What progress have we made on thinking through some of those ideas?
MR. HALL: We're going to, one of our plans is to essentially meet with the retailers once again. We met with them last year, but we'd like to convene a session of the retailers again this year.
If this fee is in place at that time, we could essentially begin a process of where we've got support from our own volunteers, first and foremost. That was important. Second, it's to discuss with retailers the options of providing courses in and around retail establishments, in and around places where hunters frequent to buy their product. The win-win, of course, would be the benefit of getting into the retail establishments, but being able to get especially the numbers of courses established in those areas, such as Cabela's, Gander Mountain, all the various types of retailers that attract a high volume.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That makes sense.
MR. HALL: We'll be convening that session, hopefully, within the next few months. We are meeting tomorrow with a simulation company, which is leading the pack in terms of computer simulation that allows for live firing activities indoors. The centerpiece of our current course is an outdoor skills trail. This would actually provide an indoor skills trail, which is part of the convenience issue at times.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Sure.
MR. HALL: Certainly, we want to maintain both of those options.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Do any of the licensed carrying places that go through that process offer the student education?
MR. HALL: The point-of-sale?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: No, the —
MR. HALL: Concealed weapons?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: — concealed weapons?
MR. HALL: Yes. Many of our instructors are also concealed carry instructors. Mostly, at the target ranges where they teach the concealed carry, they also teach hunter education. There's a big overlap there. Certainly from the concealed carry standpoint, the volume went up right away and then has really tailed off. Hunter education remains strong at about 33,000. So the volume of hunter ed classes remains fairly consistent from year to year. Some of those are overlapping.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Is the $10 benefit to the instructor enough to motivate them?
MR. HALL: Absolutely. We've had two area chief meetings. Area chiefs are folks, volunteers, who essentially teach new instructors. We've got 80 area chiefs around the state. We've had two meetings of the area chiefs already this year and they were unanimously behind the support of this.
What that gets us is, with their support, we can move on to alternative deliveries without a lot of nay-saying or without a lot of jealousies that they're doing this and we're doing this, that kind of thing. We're going to be careful with that, but we're going to have their support. Actually, I would think what's nice about this is we can get the retail establishments and these area chiefs and top instructors together in providing more convenient opportunities.
That's really the key to this. It's not that the retail establishment is going to hire somebody to do full time hunter education, but they will bring in somebody that's dedicated to it to teach at their establishment and be able to teach four or five times, six times, or even individuals and smaller groups that need it at the last minute.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Remind us what the process is to become a certified instructor.
MR. HALL: The current process is that they take the student course, be student-certified first. Then they go through a game warden interview. Then they take an instructor course. The instructor course is a one-day course preceded by a mailing packet of study materials.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: What's the cost to do that?
MR. HALL: Free. We have four regional staff around the state that essentially conduct the student courses along with those 80 area chiefs.
MR. COOK: How many instructors?
MR. HALL: 3,000, including the 500 game wardens. Now, game wardens essentially don't teach any of the volume of the courses, but they certainly represent themselves and the department at a lot of the courses and they do the game warden interviews. It's what we call a background check.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: They could teach a course?
MR. HALL: Yes.
VOICE: And occasionally do.
MR. COOK: And occasionally do?
MR. HALL: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Any other questions for Steve?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Hearing none, I will place the item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
MR. HALL: Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Thank you, Steve.
Mr. Cook, any other business?
MR. COOK: No, sir. It's time for the Conservation Committee meeting.
(Whereupon, at 10:30 a.m., the meeting was adjourned.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: January 25, 2006
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 74, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Penny Bynum before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.