Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Aug. 22, 2007Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 22nd day of August, 2007, 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:
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas, Chairman, Committee Chair
- Philip Montgomery, Dallas, Texas
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas
- Mark E. Bivins, Amarillo, Texas
- T. Dan Friedkin, Houston, Texas, Vice Chairman
- Karen J. Hixon, San Antonio, Texas
- Margaret Martin, Boerne, Texas
- Antonio Falcon, MD, Rio Grande City, 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 HOLT: Boy, I like that gavel.
Good morning, everybody. The meeting is called to order. Before proceeding with any business, I believe Mr. Cook has a statement to make.
MR. COOK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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, Government Code, referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I would like for this fact to be noted in the official record of the meeting.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Mr. Cook. I'd like to make one announcement before we get started. There's going to be a change in the Conservation Committee. Commissioner Phil Montgomery is going to hand that gavel over to Commissioner Mark Bivins. So I just kind of wanted to announce that this morning.
Also, we do have three new commissioners. I want to welcome them. Okay? Margaret Martin from Laredo/Boerne. Okay? Dr. Tony Falcon ‑‑ excuse me, Dr. Falcon, from Rio Grande City; and Karen Hixon from San Antonio. So welcome all three. There's three new ones; we're getting ‑‑ we're filling up here. This is a good thing. So welcome aboard.
We'll kick in right away. The first order of business is the approval of the meetings — previous committee meeting minutes for the Finance Committee, which have already been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Second.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Commissioner Dan Friedkin first and second by Commissioner Parker. All in favor, please say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Hearing none, motion carries. Did I say that loud enough for our two — good. I'm trying to get that —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Committee Item Number 1, Report on Pilot Projects to Promote Outdoor Recreation, Mr. Scott Boruff, please.
(Discussion off the record.)
MR. BORUFF: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Scott Boruff. I'm the Deputy Executive Director for Operations. In fact, Mr. Cook's comment is right on. This briefing is at the request of Mr. Montgomery, Commissioner Montgomery, who somewhat over a year ago asked us to explore some kind of mechanism to put hunters and landowners together via the Internet, in some kind of process. And since then, Mr. Friedkin has become interested and the two of those gentlemen asked me last month to do this briefing and to showcase some of our talent. So I'm going to do the briefing, and the talent is surrounding me. And we will introduce these ladies as we move forward, then they can give you some more detailed information.
This project primarily is to provide additional opportunities to folks in Texas for all kinds of outdoor recreation. And before I get started here, I'm going to say that this started really as an effort to put together hunters and landowners, but as we explored that mechanism and we started talking about some of the other projects that we were doing ‑‑ at the time we were doing a paddling trails initiative around the state, trying to put together paddling adventures for different communities, we kind of realized that we should broaden the scope of what we were doing and put together an online directory of all kinds of outdoor recreational opportunities.
Clearly, around Texas urban growth has caused some of ‑‑ particularly the younger population to become more out of touch with the outdoor recreational opportunities, and on the flip side, a lot of folks who provide recreational opportunities around the state, outfitters and those kind of folks, many of them are small organizations, small businesses that don't have large marketing budgets and therefore cannot effectively reach out to their constituents to connect them. So once again our purpose here is to try to create a program that would make it easier for folks to find these recreational opportunities.
Just some basic statistics: 37 percent of the population uses the Internet for travel planning, and 52 percent of travelers that are planning their own travel use the Internet to do that kind of planning. So the Internet was one of the things we were looking to try to leverage in terms of this program.
Just so you'll know, and especially for the new commissioners, we have a website now called "Experience Texas." It's organized by activities, including hunting and biking and camping, and those kind of things, so you can go in there — it has a wide variety of information that we provide in terms of how-to guides and opportunities that are available in our public properties. You probably can't see this real well, but this is the page on the Internet where you can go in right now and click on all different kinds of recreational outdoor opportunities. So this is the format that we started with. Our goal then was to expand this "Experience Texas," and develop under that umbrella an online resources program that would incorporate user-friendly searchable databases to make it easier for people to find outdoor recreational opportunities. We wanted to have a place where folks could go in and whatever their interest they could click on it, search it, by region or those kind of things.
We originally populated this database with information available in existing programs like our Great Texas Wildlife Trails, our paddling trails, equestrian trails and off-road biking. We already have those kinds of information available. Folks will be able to search by activity, by county or by region as they plan their recreational travel. And it would provide a free service to nature tourism providers, and offer a free public service to our constituents.
As I started off saying, this — that one of the things we were looking at originally was what we called "Hunt Texas Online." This was an effort to offer web-based applications to help connect hunters with landowners, who had hunting leases of course.
Under this model, which we are piloting, interested landowners would populate a secure database. One of the concerns of course of the landowners is privacy; we were very careful to maintain privacy in this database. Once again, folks could search by game type, deer, quail, whatever; county; lease type and other attributes. It would be free to both landowners and hunters, and offered as a public service to constituents.
One of the key elements here was marketing. How were we going to get the word out to folks that this was what we had, and that this was available. So we brought in the Marketing Division; one of the things we're particularly proud of is that this is a multi-divisional effort, that will span at least four and possibly five divisions when we're finished.
The marketing through the Communications Division will be very important to us, and as you can see here we're looking at linking this to other opportunities on Travel Tex and other websites. We would promote it in our different kinds of media that we have available in the agency. And it — our intent is to promote Texas Hunt Online by promoting it to landowners beginning next month in September.
So we will go out and start facilitating landowners being able to put their information into the system, and then in the spring of '08 we would kind of open the program up and target it with press releases and so forth.
We have several desired outcomes. One is to increase conservation dollars to get people more connected to the outdoors, and ultimately that would reflect in license sales and other kinds of revenue to the agency. It will give, in particular, rural communities a real economic opportunity to develop eco-tourism in their neck of the woods and get folks out there and the benefit from what they have to offer. It will create strong partnerships in nature-based tourism, and obviously ultimately increase the support for Texas Parks and Wildlife programs.
Having said that, I'd certainly be willing to take questions, but one of the reasons I've got the real talent up here with me is so each of these folks could talk a little bit about the programs they've been involved in. And we've got several folks here. I guess I'll start over here, Shelly Plante in the Wildlife Division is our Nature Tourism Coordinator for the agency. She has been gracious enough to accept the offer to lead this program. And Melissa Parker, right next to me with the Inland Fisheries Division, was really the person responsible for the initial Paddling Trails program. I believe we have six or seven — how many do we have now?
MS. PARKER: Well, we actually — there are already seven coastal trails. We have three inland, and six more coming on board, very soon. So —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Are those on the Internet? I mean, can you pick them up off of our web base?
MS. PARKER: Yes. You should be able to.
MR. BORUFF: Melissa will talk more about paddling trails. Linda Campbell has been in charge of the Hunt Texas program; she can talk about that. And Darcy Bontempo is going to talk a little bit about the marketing. So I guess we'll start with you, Shelly.
MS. PLANTE: Okay. Again, I'm Shelly Plante, and as Scott said, we were looking at this potential of really consolidating a lot of information that already existed on the Parks and Wildlife website in various formats.
We have the Great Texas Wildlife Trails that has public and private sites. We have all the state parks information that is actually organized by activity already, equestrian activity, mountain biking activity, and camping facilities, and all of that information is online. But all of these things are in very disparate locations. You have to kind of search for them. So we were looking for a way to really put it all in one area; and the Experience Texas website links from the main page of the Parks and Wildlife website so it's very easily accessible. The online directory, we can now put all of the information that already exists into a main directory. And since people are searching for information online, and they're also searching for information by region, they can now go to this directory, once it's complete, and they'll be able to either pick a region — like, they're going to the Gulf Coast ‑‑ and see what biking activities are available on the Gulf Coast. They can click, "biking," they can click "Gulf Coast" and go. Or they can click on the county. Say, we're going to Travis County and we want to go birding and camping. What facilities exist for birding and camping in Travis County only.
So it makes it very easy where they can pick a number of activities, and they can pick where they're going. But they can also pick what kind of accommodations they want. We will have accommodations listings on there. So camping, RV hookups or hotels or bed and breakfasts, are all things — and camping onsite or camping offsite, because some of our private landowners do offer camping and RV facilities.
So we're really trying to make this as user-friendly as possible, as well as consolidating all of the information that already exists, so people will still be able to go out and look in the state parks area; they'll be able to look at the Great Texas Wildlife Trails website or the Texas Paddling Trails website; but for those that are more general travelers, that are just interested in connecting with the outdoors, we have this service now where we'll be able to allow them to travel more efficiently, and hopefully help them do that.
And the thing is that we're a catalyst for that, where the success of the Paddling Trails program last year really took off, and we thought, well, why aren't we expanding this to more activities. And then the Hunt Texas Online was also coming up and launching this fall, and it just seemed like they all melded together as a way to really be a service to our constituents. And Melissa will tell you more about the paddling trails.
MS. PARKER: My name is Melissa Parker and I work in the Inland Fisheries Division. And we started, you know as I mentioned, the Coastal Fisheries Division had started paddling trails, you know, several years ago and had seven trails. And we were interested in developing some inland trails, and we had a lot of help and support from Commissioner Montgomery in getting that started.
We were really amazed and surprised actually at the support that we got from the community of Luling, as we explored the idea of doing this paddling trail. And what came to the forefront in that was that they saw the potential economic boon that they could have from having this paddling trail, and people coming to town because they would stay and do other things in town as well. And it gave us the opportunity to promote our park, and other such things. And so as Luling became such a success, we were inundated with communities from all over the state, you know, telling us, we want a paddling trail. How do we get one? And that's when we decided to move the paddling trails under the umbrella of the Nature Tourism, because it seemed to fit right in. People weren't traveling just to paddle; they were doing other things as well.
So it's turned out to be quite a great marketing tool for us, and communities really want to come to us because they know that we can help promote beyond what they can do. And one of the benefits we see as a Department in promoting paddling trails and moving this program forward is that it gives us the opportunity up front to go in and educate people about, you know, river conservation, river ethics, about private lands and how to behave along the river, that the banks are actually privately owned, that kind of thing. And so it gives us a chance to be a little bit proactive in that measure, whereas before we were really more responding to, you know, problems on the river.
We get to go out and post this on the website, post it on kiosks, get it in community information, the maps that are developed, that kind of thing. So it's been a big help to us in that area. It's a tremendous tool. And then the other benefit that we have statewide is just that there's a tremendous economic potential there for a community. So.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Just a quick question. How many different — how many of our eco-regions are currently covered by paddling trails and paddling routes, and how many are we missing? And where are they?
MS. PLANTE: ‑‑ they're really missing East Texas. We're missing the Dallas/Fort Worth area, in the Texas area.
MS. PARKER: We're missing the Panhandle —
MS. PARKER: — that's going to be a harder one. And West —
MS. PLANTE: But —
MS. PLANTE: — we have had inquiries in all of those areas back there. We've talked to —
MS. PLANTE: — about doing that sort of thing. We've talked to —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MS. PLANTE: — the Caddo area. So there are talks in place. Just not trails that are connected —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: The Canadian River is listed as a navigable waterway.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Now, when there's enough water in it to navigate, I'll call you.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: How about a portage trail?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: If you'll carry my kayak.
MS. PLANTE: And we actually have had inquiries from all of those regions that I just mentioned. But we've had such an influx of applications that we haven't pursued those interests yet —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure.
MS. PLANTE: — until we can fill what's already on our plate. But it's getting — I mean, it's getting much more expansive.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MS. PARKER: We have at least 16 other inquiries other than the ones that we're actually working on now ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Really? Wow.
MS. PARKER: — that are very interested, beyond, you know, just a quick phone call to us. They've pursued it. So —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Great.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Can I make a sub-point to that? Because it's really important, one, that there's a ton of demand ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: — that creates a sustainable constituency ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: — we don't have to own anything. We just bring it up —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, that's what's sweet.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: It liberates us from all that ‑‑ it works for the ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And works for us.
MS. PARKER: It really does.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: And we're trying to tie the park system to help drive traffic through resources we already have. And to the communities, I'll bet they're ‑‑
MR. COOK: Yes, the community benefit is great.
MS. PARKER: And we actually have communities going out and improving existing access sites that we wouldn't have had the dollars otherwise to do —
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Oh, sure —
MS. PARKER: And the delay on some of the people that haven't submitted applications yet is they're trying to get up to standard. They're trying to get those access points ready and some parking at those access points to really be ready to do the application —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Speaking of standards, then have you set certain standards that are required to be part of this?
MS. PARKER: Yes, we sure have.
MR. COOK: The branding requires —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And that's a certain —
MR. COOK: Uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — parking access —
MS. PLANTE: That serves the customers well.
MS. PARKER: Parking, access, distance of the trail itself, that kind of thing. We want to get people on and off ‑‑
MS. PLANTE: Branding, signage. The signage has to follow our standards we put together with the overall look as in the kiosk design —
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: That's a good point, yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We have a standard look, then?
MS. PARKER: I mean, when you drive up you know it's a paddling trails program from Parks and Wildlife.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: So then the concept is working — you got Nature Tourism, paddle trails, public hunting on private lands ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: — equestrian, hike, I mean you can — catalyst the brander; doesn't have to own it, and creates a sustainable constituency, and packages bite-sized chunks ‑‑ whereas you've got to have —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. COOK: — that don't know how to do it —
MR. COOK: — to do something I don't know how to do, I just need to know I go here and I get this.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. Tremendous benefit.
MR. COOK: That's what happens in each of those areas.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That's exciting. It's great.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, sir. John?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes, kudos. Kudos to you for ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Driving that ship —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — this, you lit the spark; they're the fire.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I just recognize talent and good ideas.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: We've got it. I wanted to ask, will you eventually, I don't know the computer terminology to display it, but will you eventually hook our website to the websites like all of the newspapers, all of our outdoor column people, where a lot of people read the newspapers, and they want to go hunting or they want to ‑‑ for a particular item, or they're looking for a lease, or they're wanting to do this or that. Will we seek permission from ‑‑
MS. BONTEMPO: Yes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — all of these other, the broad scope of the electronic —
MS. BONTEMPO: Yes, definitely.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — field —
MS. BONTEMPO: Definitely, given that the Internet is such a key thing. We've already spoken with the Governor's Office ‑‑ I'm Darcy Bontempo, the Marketing Director; I also oversee the website for the agency ‑‑ we are going to be very aggressively pursuing those kinds of opportunities. We've already spoken with the Governor's Office, which has their — you know, obviously is going to pull, attract out-of-state as well as in-state travelers, nature tourism travelers, and they're very supportive of it. They think it has a value. So I think there's no question that wherever we can develop those partnerships, we're going to be seeking definitely to have our — that link.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Well, I was sure that you had already taken care of it. I just wanted to get it —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — broadcast, so that —
MS. BONTEMPO: Definitely. Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — everyone will know how efficient ‑‑
MS. BONTEMPO: I appreciate that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — you folks are.
MS. BONTEMPO: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Did I mention that, Darcy I don't know if I'm stealing your thunder —
MS. BONTEMPO: That's okay.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: — but as he said, there's an important point here too, that is the policies for us, to Commissioner Parker's point. You all probably read the principle that — you've seen the explosion of Internet communities where people have a common interest. You've probably read the principle that those communities are an ‑‑ are valuable exponentially ‑‑ that the value of those communities increases exponentially to the participant, based on the number of participants, because the more people on it, they become increasingly valuable.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Sure, right.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Shelly picked up on that, and Darcy picked up on it, and what they're trying to do once is start with a bang, the whole ‑‑ once it's on there. But TPWD has the potential to really be a great Internet community for aggregated outdoor recreational and hunting products, if you will, if you want to look at it commercially.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: And to create probably cross-selling and a higher degree of awareness among all players. As you all know, everybody in the cities goes to the Internet now first for information. You can certainly get there, but then you see ‑‑ for whatever you're offering, it should have an exponential effect on people seeking opportunities or interest in opportunities. So that's the premise behind it, why it has a lot of potential power even though it's in the early pilot stage.
Scott took a — he said, you know, we didn't put all of this together and boom. We just saw the Forbes article last year on Internet communities, but it's really dramatic on the economy.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: One question?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: On an issue where the river passes by private lands, what sort of notification does that landowner get before you initiate the concept?
MS. PARKER: That's part of the process before we even establish the trail, is that there's public meetings. There's meetings about it; we notify the landowners, let them know. We had a ruling, there was one concerned landowner who came to the table and said, hey, I've got concerns about this and we were able to talk with him individually and give him all kinds of information. By the time it was all said and done, he was one of the biggest supporters of it all. So — but yes. We will, you know, we're just not going to go in and put a trail in where there's —
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Well, what are the ‑‑ Melissa, one of the — correct me if I'm wrong, but one of the requirements is that, some governmental entity endorse the project —
MS. PARKER: Exactly.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: — before it's launched.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: So just for that reason.
MS. PARKER: Right.
MR. COOK: I think, the first business is, one of the points that came to light earlier was that in the education process, in the information-providing process, and kind of the training process, there are people out there using the rivers now, and unknowingly possibly leaving trash or using the — you know, making a landfall and camping, or — picnicking or doing whatever they're doing. But part of this process is to get those people involved in the river to understand the value of, you know, not trashing it out, and not abusing private property rights. And when that becomes evident I think over time, this will be even better accepted by landowners, over what they have right now.
A couple points that I'd want to make, you know, Coastal Fisheries started their paddling trails, what Melissa? Five years ago or more —
MS. PARKER: Yes, mid-'90s —
MR. COOK: — they were very successful, and those folks really saw this vision, I think a number of years ago, and went to work on it.
A question, have any of these communities tied into this yet with the — our local park grant program?
MS. PARKER: Actually, yes. We were just in Bastrop yesterday, and one of the local park grants that they'll be applying for will be decided tomorrow. So —
MR. COOK: Okay.
MS. PARKER: — they have — and we make them aware of that, and get them in contact.
MR. COOK: Okay.
MS. PARKER: We sure do.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: One of my final questions was, can we be sure the Commission likes this program, and did we look at the criterion for scoring local parks to give bonus points for participation in the state-run program? Because it's a natural and it increases the activity in —
MR. COOK: Well, there are bonus points now built into the — into Tim's scoring system for conservation — you know, conservation points. But I think this one might ‑‑
MS. BONTEMPO: Qualifies —
MR. COOK: — deserve a special look.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: It potentially turns a local park into a local and a state park —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: — to use in statewide ‑‑ so anyone who wants to be one of these grand —
MR. BORUFF: Before we move on, I'd like to make one additional comment, too. I think, especially for the new Commissioners, I often get the question, you know, how do you fund this kind of program? Is it a line-item funding issue? And since this is the Finance Committee, it probably is worth at least addressing that. And the answer is, no. These are the kind of initiatives that, where we try to find money on a line-item basis for this, we'd have to stop doing something else.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. BORUFF: This is the kind of program that I think grows out of the good-faith effort of a cross-divisional commitment, and so I've got the commitment from the Wildlife Division, the Coastal, the Inland and Communications divisions to do this with this existing talent. So this is one of many programs here that if you were to look in our LAR or any other budget items, you wouldn't see a line item that said, "Online Directory Budget." These are folks that are doing other jobs too, but this is a strong commitment from them to make this happen. Now, go ahead.
MS. CAMPBELL: Good morning, Commissioners. I'm Linda Campbell. I'm the program director in the Wildlife Division, Private Lands and Public Hunting. And Hunt Texas, just a few points on that: The idea began really as a way to address the challenges that landowners face with over-abundant deer populations, and match that to the challenges that hunters face in finding good leases for hunting. And in a private land state, that's quite a challenge, to find, you know, good places to hunt.
So this web application was designed specifically with ‑‑ to ensure the privacy of both the hunters and the landowners. They can contact one another anonymously until they're ready to go forward if they get to that point. So it maintains privacy for the private landowner, which we felt was quite important to them. And the other thing I wanted to tell you is, we did test this in-house with employees playing the roles of both landowners and hunters; we tested it in our IT room, the actual application itself.
They used it. They registered as landowners, and registered as hunters, and tried to find any bugs in the application. And it worked real well; we feel like the test helped us clarify language to make it clearer to those using it and improve usability generally.
And again the goal is to increase hunting opportunities while at the same time providing landowners with another option in marketing their wildlife resources, and managing their habitats through population control.
The roll-out strategy, as Scott has alluded to, we wanted to populate it with our landowners first, so our first target will be landowners beginning September through about May. And really, you know, speak to our landowner organizations, try to hit all of our various ways that we talk to landowners through field days and other ways that they will know that this service is available to them. And then in June we'll roll it out to the general public, to try to really get hunters focused on it at that time, through our media releases, news releases and other media. So ‑‑ any questions, I'll be happy to answer them.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Are you doing any, you know, like around-the-table discussions with ‑‑ what can we do to entice large landowners who have an overpopulation of deer to participate in this program? Is there any enticement that we can offer that large landowner?
MS. CAMPBELL: Well ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Or can you — can we, if there is not, can we dream up something?
MS. CAMPBELL: — yes. Well, Commissioner, that's a good question. And we're going to make sure that they know about this service first of all. And there are other services out there on the Internet; some are free and some are not. But the privacy issue is the main thing that we were looking at here, for landowners. And it — I think that's going to be very important. Especially to the larger landowners, to make sure that they can screen these communications —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Sure.
MS. CAMPBELL: — in an anonymous way until they're actually ready, to, if they want to —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: But what I'm saying is, if we can come up with — a whole cluster in our hand saying that, if you will do this, we're going to be able to offer you these options or these enticements, to do this. And I don't even know what they might be. I'm just saying that if you folks, in your brainstorming, could come up with something that has never come up before, to offer these larger landowners enticement, because there is a very rich resource item there, in that they have that overpopulation of deer ‑‑
MS. CAMPBELL: Uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — the only thing we've got to do is, unlock their gates and their hearts to make it more available to our metropolitan-type —
MS. CAMPBELL: Right. We can certainly look at that, and think about it. We — at this point we're just trying to enable them to communicate with potential customers, in a real secure manner. And the other thing is, this database offers all of the various searchable items that Shelly spoke about in the online directory. In other words, you can search by game and county and all of the various ways, so that people can really hone down on what they're looking for.
Landowners can also list exactly what they have, and so the — you know, the two will match up nicely, is our goal.
MR. COOK: Commissioner, I think one of the issues that always comes up when we get into this discussion with landowners and an enticement, as opposed to, you know, some sort of cash reward or, you know, heaped on enforcement or actually running the hunt for them, which becomes a real problem, you know, manpower-wise. One of the first issues that comes up is liability insurance. I mean, every time. And people I think are often ‑‑ shy away from this kind of involvement, this kind of public activity, this kind of use on their property for those fears. And we've continued to work with the Legislature, with the Attorney General, and I would certainly encourage the Commission and staff to continue that effort to be able to — whatever the right word is, provide the protection from liability as much as possible.
We've not gotten much, you know, encouragement in that area, in past efforts. But it's something I think we need to continue to work on. It's almost always the first issue that comes up.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Bob, the one thing that maybe we should take a look at is, what other states do in that regard, because other — I'm told that there are some other states, especially the states who deal with private land, BLM private land, national park private land, where they have to go through —
The charge that is made to the customer and then shared with the landowner, part of that goes to pay for an insurance policy that covers liability to the private landowner.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Well, that was actually going to be one of my questions obviously, the whole liability issue, because until we solve that, it's going to be very difficult to expand this program. But, you know, unless there — I mean, and is there a way through the legislature to get some type of governmental immunity that would extend to the landowner? Because even if you're dealing with insurance, it's ‑‑ they'd still be concerned about having —
MR. COOK: There have been — the question has been broached several times. And we've not gotten ‑‑ and Ann Bright, I guess I would ask to —
Ann, would you expand on this a little bit?
MS. BRIGHT: Sure. I'm Ann Bright, General Counsel. There is currently, on the books, a recreational immunity statute. And it provides, depending on basically how much a landowner charges to allow people to recreate on their land, it provides some degree of immunity, or at least it limits the liability, so long as there is insurance coverage, which one of the things that does is, it makes the insurance coverage more available, or more affordable because there are limits on the amount of liability, so the insurer that signs on to this knows that they're never going to have to pay out more than X dollars.
There was an opinion that — we're covered by that as well, the Agency, because most of our lands are recreational lands. There was a Supreme Court opinion that came out, golly, probably about a year ago, that seemed to limit that a little bit, and we were kind of hoping that that might, frankly, get a change in the legislature, but that didn't.
But there's — you know, it's still there, and it still does provide some immunity; and I know that that's something that it does — lots of entities are interested in it. I know the Municipal League was very active in some of the litigation and have been very active in trying to make sure that that adequately covers recreational users or landowners.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So there is a starting point. There is ‑‑
MS. BRIGHT: There is absolutely a starting point, and in fact ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — a starting point. All we have to do is move forward on it.
MS. BRIGHT: Absolutely, sir. And in fact there is ‑‑ it's my understanding that there are similar statutes in other states as well.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Commissioner Montgomery?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: We've spent quite a bit of time on the two questions you've asked ‑‑ one, what are the incentives, and the liability question ‑‑ and I've been educated by these two about how the statute works and where its weaknesses are. In fact, Mark's brother informed me of it years ago when we first talked of it, Senator Teel Bivins. I think as a matter of policy that's the one the Commission ought to focus on.
Linda, correct me if I'm wrong. If I remember, there's — are there 10,000 public hunts available on TPWD WMAs and parks right now? How many public hunts do we offer?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Six thousand —
MS. CAMPBELL: Six thousand —
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: And there's 60,000 applications, for 6,000 hunts at $100 a hunt.
MS. CAMPBELL: And —
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: There's a giant mismatch in the supply-demand curves, that if ‑‑ we can't fill with dollars. That if what we're trying to do here is to create a market mechanism on a brand new product that helps fill that gap, especially for the thing that is of value now, the surplus deer population that's hard to get at, and liability is the impediment.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: But —
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: But I think it will clear it, I think, if we create the mechanism and solve the liability problem, and then it — probably some means of approval of a better, tighter state law, and other things. But that's something the Commission ought to weigh in on, if the Commission wants to really promote more affordable, broader hunting opportunities —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: But this is exactly what they're talking about doing. You know —
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Well, that's the whole purpose. Sure. But at the same time —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — being, too —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — the more affordable, and doing a marriage with the — some of the larger landowners.
MR. COOK: And if I could point out too, Commissioners, that some of the same issues, when you start talking equestrian, when you start talking about mountain biking ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Exactly.
MR. COOK: — same issues come to mind immediately. And some of it is just, you know, getting accustomed to it, and getting used to it, adjusting to it. And like I say, I think it's just one of those points that at this point in time we have been working on it; we've continued to work on it; with your support, you know, hopefully, we'll continue to make some progress.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: And, you know, maybe we could even get a small cross-section of large landowners together and say, this is what we're doing, what do you think about it, punch holes in it so that we can cover up the holes — dot dah, dot dah, dot dah. And at least then, you know, we can — it would look like to me that you could at least have a record of what a problem might be there.
Because you have a marvelous idea here. The whole concept is just marvelous. And we have a starting point, from Ann, on this other item, and gee, I think it's ‑‑ you're standing on the diving board. You just got to get a little spring in there.
MS. BONTEMPO: Thank you. Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Darcy Bontempo. And I just was going to touch briefly on the marketing for this new product, which is very exciting from the standpoint of, there really isn't anything like this in Texas. I can't speak for other states, but there's really nothing like this that takes all of the various types of recreational activities and puts them under one platform such that we can talk to a nature tourist with one product. So ‑‑ because as we know, people that hunt also fish, also camp, also bike. And from a marketing standpoint it's very efficient; you aren't trying to market all of these separate things. So that's very efficient.
We also are very fortunate here at Parks and Wildlife. We have an outstanding web group, that does — it's been recognized many times, and we are in a unique position because of those resources to be able to develop a web-based application like this, that will be searchable, that will be user-friendly, because that is a big key. It has to be convenient and easy to use for the customer, so they're going to be able to come and as Shelly outlined, look for maybe birding, and then when they're there, find out that there's camping or fishing or other things. So we'll be working very hard on completing development of the product, which is part of the marketing as well, which is going to be a big effort for us but it's an undertaking we're very excited about.
And then from a marketing standpoint, we're going to be as you mentioned, Commissioner Parker, we're going to be doing a lot of online promotion of it, by ‑‑ through partnerships and linking. We're going to be obviously using our TPWD communication products, our magazine, our radio program, et cetera, to get the word out. We're also going to be using our email subscription service, where we have a growing number of subscribers who actually want to receive free information on updates. So all of the people who sign up for hunting will be learning about this Hunt Texas online connection, as well as people who are interested in camping will be finding out about the online directory.
So, we're going to be working on branding it, by that I mean, coming up with a name that is easy for customers to remember and for us to advertise, so we'll be working on that as well. But it's a really exciting opportunity, and we're going to be working with our partnerships and our products to get the message out, because we obviously, the key thing is, we've got to let people know about it.
So in any case, it's a project that I think has a lot of value, and we're going to be working on it I think for many years. So —
COMMISSIONER BROWN: How many — as far as this website, how many hits do we get, in —
MS. BONTEMPO: For our website? Well, we get —
COMMISSIONER BROWN: I guess, and another question is there any ability on our part to be able to sell advertising and do some other things to create some revenue to help underwrite this whole thing?
MS. BONTEMPO: To your first question, we get about half a million visits a month on our website, and our website has been recognized for being one of the ‑‑ not only one of the best websites, but also one of the most visited websites. So — and it's very rich in content which is part of the reason for that too, and they spend quite a bit of time on the website.
We have talked about advertising. I am very interested in pursuing that. Right now we do sponsorships ‑‑ we are able to get some support through sponsorships, but I would be interested ‑‑ and that's something that we had talked about is, as this develops, the possibility of doing some advertising.
I — you know, I think we just have to be a little bit careful because we don't want to be competing with private business. I mean, that's, you know, that's where you get a little bit into a sticky issue. But it's something that we are interested in and we'd like to continue to explore, and we welcome your input on that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Competing with private business. Help me understand that.
MS. BONTEMPO: Well, there are web — you know, the web advertising business is a very important and growing business ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MS. BONTEMPO: — and it's going to eclipse other forms of advertising ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MS. BONTEMPO: — print media and so forth. So there are a lot of ‑‑ we get contacted almost on a daily basis by websites that are making their business by promoting, whether it's outdoors or travel, and they're wanting our content and our information, and they are selling advertising on those websites. So that's where I'm seeing a potential issue. If we develop this using state resources, a very attractive marketing tool, and then sell advertising, I'm just saying there could be a potential issue. I —
COMMISSIONER BROWN: If you're going to have that many hits a month, though it seems to me that that's a tremendous opportunity there to ‑‑
MS. BONTEMPO: Oh, I agree. I agree —
COMMISSIONER BROWN: — you know I understand your concern ‑‑
MS. BONTEMPO: — I'm very interested in —
MS. BONTEMPO: No, I'm interested in it. I ‑‑ that's something I'm very interested in. I'm just posing a potential issue. Believe me, that's one of the first things I was interested in doing. So. I agree.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Could we come in the back door? On that advertising — us not particularly sell advertising on our space, but those people who want a spot in our space, if they derive some sort of income off of their ‑‑
MS. BONTEMPO: A revenue sharing sort of model you mean?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Right, right, right.
MS. BONTEMPO: I think all of those things are open for discussion. I know that they all ‑‑ obviously our general counsel would need to be very involved, and it's something that upper management and the Commission, you know, would have input on that. I think there are many avenues to explore.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: You know, some people skin from the neck back, and others skin from the —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: John, we don't want to use those terms.
MS. BONTEMPO: I think we have to decide what our key role in this is going to be; I mean, you know, what our key role is going to be. I think that the one issue with that is — well, there are many issues. One thing is, if you do that, you'd begin to limit some of the providers that might then participate.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Right.
MS. BONTEMPO: And that would then defeat kind of the bigger vision. So you kind of have to decide where the big vision is on it, I think. That would be my other ‑‑ my only point there, is that you might limit participation. But I'm open to all input on that.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Well, the purpose of this was to show you all there's a lot of policy issues there.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: And this working group has been running with it, sort of sub rosa, and done a great job. I want to thank each one ‑‑ it's been a pleasure working with each of you; it's a very exciting area. As you all know, I'm on reappointment row, so it's probably my last meeting. I've asked to have this briefing so that you all could see the range and the strategic policy issues here. Because I think ‑‑ I want to tell particularly the new members, but also all of you, this ‑‑ these new areas, because they're new and different, the Commissioners can make a difference.
They are going to need support. They will demand more resources of all kinds if they're going to grow, and the growth rates here are pretty darned dramatic. Nature tourism has got Shelly covered up; she was asked to take this on. Melissa has added this to her job, and it's just ‑‑ paddle trails are exploding, and there's a lot of consumer demand if we package it right. And that — going back to land and water primarily are working on ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: — I guess all of you were on there, but that's a strategic element of the plan, is to create our potential urban dollars and to do that in a strategic way, is using TPWD assets to create assets here that have value, the website and others, if we do it right. So I would hope each of you would find some element of this to champion. And I encourage you to do it and tell you you can have a pretty darn big impact. We're still in the variable pilot stage here.
So Scott, I think you've pulled all this together, and personally it's been a real pleasure. I think you're doing something real important for ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Yes, I mean, this is one of the most important programs that we've got going —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The potential growth, is —
COMMISSIONER BROWN: — it is incredible. It really is. It's exciting. Really exciting.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I've sat here now for over six years and heard speaker after speaker tell us that hunting and fishing are flat. We have some very high growth businesses that get to the group of population we're not getting to, in a systematic way, and who create sustainable constituencies for conservation, which is our core mission, if we package them right and build them up into real viable constituencies. And we don't have to own the properties to do it. We just have to have a brain ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That's right.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: — Peter, as you were saying ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Now —
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: There's really something pretty big here, if we do it right. I don't think it's being done around the country as systematically as we've now broken it down and talked about. So I hope you all pick it up and run with it, and I'll be cheering from the sidelines.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Phil, I applaud your ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, absolutely ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — forward thinking. This is a ‑‑ this could be one of the — this right here could be one of the things that leaps us into the century that we're already in. It really could.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Well, this group has made a lot of eight o'clock meetings with me, so I appreciate that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, I knew you were going to make them ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Scott, anything else? And thank you, ladies. I appreciate it. Any other questions, Commissioners?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, this is one of the most exciting things going on, I think in the agency, so ‑‑ relative to the future. Thank you very much. It was well worth it to get here bright and early.
Is there any other discussion on this by the Commission?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. I want to thank everybody.
Committee Item Number 2, Land and Water Plan Update. Mr. Cook?
MR. COOK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just a couple of items I want to make you all aware of, and again in an effort to keep the word out. We kicked off the sales of our 2008 hunting and fishing licenses last Wednesday. And it just went gangbusters there for several days, and sales are progressing well. The updated system and equipment across the state is functioning well; we are prepared for our peak sales period which is just going to come crashing down on us, on this Friday, Saturday, Labor Day weekend. So we are really, really working every day to get the word out, encouraging folks to get their licenses bought now and miss that Friday, because that will be an interesting day.
Staff also continue to work on addressing our State Park Audit recommendations from the finance standpoint. Our internal audit has hired most of the additional auditors that will conduct the audits out at the state parks. I believe we were looking for 16, and I think we are now sitting on 14, with several others in the mill, additional auditors to work the parks.
We've also been preparing our comprehensive implementation plan that will be submitted to the LBB, Legislative Budget Board, and the Governor prior to the August 31st deadline, as required in one of our riders, and Mr. Boruff will be addressing some other audit progress during his presentation later on here. Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Thank you.
Any questions? I know that was a lot in a short period of time for our new Commissioners, but the state audit is something that is required, and pushed by the ‑‑ took it to the Senate as we went through the legislative period this last period, and I want to congratulate Scott and his group particularly. We're ahead of the curve on our reports and when they're supposed to get in. So not only have they done a thorough job, but we're doing it in appropriate time frames. And I think because of that, that we're going to — our goal is to get that cooperation back and forth between ourselves and the state office. So — any other discussions?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Great. Okay, Committee Item Number 3, Financial Overview. Ms. Mary Fields.
(Discussion off the record.)
MS. FIELDS: Good morning, Commissioners. For the record I'm Mary Fields, Chief Financial Officer. And I am here to provide the financial overview. We have several items on the agenda today that I'll be covering with you. The focus of the presentation will be to provide a revenue and budget status for fiscal year 2007. We will provide an annual status report on our Business Improvement Plan, present the proposed fiscal year 2008 Operating and Capital Budget, as well as budget and investment policy resolutions.
So I'll start off with the 2007 revenue and budget status. We'll start off with state park receipts. When comparing state park gross receipts through June 30th at $28.69 million, we're up 5.5 percent, or $1.49 million over last year's collections at this same time. In reviewing the categories of park receipts, all of the categories exceed the prior year except for entrance and use fees; those are just slightly down. Most notable are the facilities fees and the activities and concession fees. I have also looked at revenues as of August, and even with the flooding that has occurred in some of our state parks we will meet our revenue estimate, and we will actually have some additional revenues to apply to some key areas.
Our boat revenue as of June 30th is at $17.1 million. This is up by 8.5 percent or $1.34 million compared to last year at this same time. Again, all of the categories of the revenue are up, but the key driver here continues to be our boat registrations. We have that two-year cycle with the registrations.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, that's right.
MS. FIELDS: So this year, the odd year is one of the up years. We also continue to transfer 15 percent of our registration and titling revenue to Fund 64, our State Park Fund, and that amounts to $2.2 million based on revenues through June.
Our license sales, those are also up as of the end of June at $84.7 million; we're up $2.1 million when compared to last year, or 2.6 percent. All categories of revenue again continue to be higher here. The primary contributor over this report is the fishing revenue, and that's up by almost 3.5 percent over the prior year. So it looks like those nice lake levels are contributing to the fishing license sales.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Even with the rain.
MS. FIELDS: Uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And Mary, help me. When was — there are no fee increases in this. So this is truly just volume increase.
MS. FIELDS: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And when was the last time there were fee increases in the various license areas.
MS. FIELDS: We did a pretty good set of fee increases in fiscal year 2004, and then we did implement the new Freshwater Fish Stamp Fund in 2005.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And that's ‑‑
MS. FIELDS: There were no increases —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — that's in these numbers?
MS. FIELDS: That's correct. There were no increases in '06 or '07.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MS. FIELDS: So we may be due to look at some price increases —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It may be time to increase, or discuss it anyway.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: It's probably worth thinking about a policy that at least tracks inflation ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Say that louder?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: It's probably worth a policy that at least tracks inflation ‑‑ we're really just tracking inflation with these numbers —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: That's right. You're staying ‑‑
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Yes, yes. And —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — you're not breathing any air ‑‑
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: — the adjustments, in my observation, tend to be, tend to lag —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — all right.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: — and take a long time. And if you can't —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: And we have a history of that.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Yes. Yes ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, and that sounds [inaudible] but it's a very sensitive issue as you can imagine ‑‑
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — so it is something we will ‑‑ and I don't disagree that definitely that's got to be part of the discussion —
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: We might rationalize it a little bit ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ but we do definitely have to be very sensitive to our constituency, and certainly the ‑‑ legislators also. So I think as we discuss it, we need to be all-encompassing relative to somehow tying it to inflation if it would be possible; but that can also create a very sensitive situation, so I want to be careful of how we approach this. That's why I was asking the question about time frames relative to our last fee increases.
MS. FIELDS: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: We can certainly review it though, I guess.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, yes. I think it's time to start talking about it.
MS. FIELDS: Yes. I think it's ‑‑
MS. FIELDS: I agree, Chairman it is a topic I think worth discussing ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, yes.
MS. FIELDS: — this upcoming fiscal year.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right. That's why Phil's getting off.
MS. FIELDS: Okay. Moving on here. Just in looking at the number of licenses sold, they correlate fairly closely with the revenue that we just discussed. At 2.61 million, we're up 1.8 percent as of the end of June. I'm not going to go into all of the details on this slide here (indicating). You can see the percentages and the increases in the major categories.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. And in a way, this to me is a more important number in a sense, because I mean, you know, we've finally seemed to have gone — you know, we flattened out; in fact we went down for a while, but now we've started to come up; 1.6 isn't a lot on the combo or overall 1.8 percent, but I think we've finally reversed the trend a bit. Now we've got to figure out how to increase that percentage growth.
MS. FIELDS: When comparing our fiscal year 2007 revenue collections as of June 30th to the annual revenue estimates, we continued to do well, which is really no surprise after just discussing the revenue growth in all of our major sources. With 83 percent of the year elapsed, we have collected 86.3 percent of our Fund 9 Game, Fish, and Water Safety Funds revenue. The State Park Fund is showing at 103 percent. That percentage is relatively high right now because it does include the land sale proceeds from Eagle Mountain Lake. If you take those out, to kind of get a more comparable review here, we're at about 92 percent, which is still very good.
And we talked about the state park fees earlier, but this fund also includes oil and gas royalties, and those continue to do real well for us, which is one of the drivers here as well.
The Local Park Fund is at 105.9 percent, and the Other category includes several funds, and they're all doing well at 115.2 percent.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: This is at June 30th, and your fiscal year ends ‑‑
MS. FIELDS: August 31st.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — August 31st.
MS. FIELDS: Yes, sir. When — let's see. Our overall budget has increased by $14.7 million since March 31st when I last reported on the budget. So we're at $346.7 million. Budget adjustments made during April, May and June are summarized on the slide (indicating). The most significant adjustments this reporting period relate to the riders. That total of $9.7 million includes $5.5 million of additional revenues that we budgeted at midyear, as a result of Rider 27 and the Comptroller's certification of additional funds. We also budgeted some unexpended balances amounting to $3.9 million. The majority of that was federal dollars.
So I'll move ahead here. In reviewing budget versus expense, we have 34.4 percent of the budget remaining, with 83 percent of the fiscal year elapsed. All of the categories are basically on track. The capital expenditure line item does include a good bit of available balance, and we will carry some of that forward into fiscal year 2008. We'll discuss that more in a minute when I discuss the operating budget for fiscal year 2008.
The next topic is the Business Improvement Plan ‑‑ just a status update. The last time I presented this to the Commission was last August. Out of the 94 items that were to be completed in that overall plan, there are five projects that are still in progress. One is scheduled to be completed during fiscal year 2008. The remaining projects will be completed by fiscal year 2010.
These remaining projects really relate to automated system improvements that we're going to continue to work on and complete. These are well-documented and we have many plans to get those systems complete. At this point, I believe I will discontinue reporting on the Business Improvement Plan. We are — we're almost there, and we have other recommendations that we're tracking, so I am going to bring this one to a close.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good. Congratulations.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: On that point, Bob and Scott ‑‑ particularly the new Commissioners ‑‑ staff really have taken on a monumental task over the last five years of scrubbing down the agency, revising it, upgrading ‑‑ you all need to be comfortable that this place is really well run. I mean, it's buttoned down, well run, tight — and, you know, you're always going to hear that, you know, oh, they screwed something up kind of thing when somebody gets mad, but they're doing a great job. So I hope that little point — Mary's going through it real fast. That was a big effort —
MS. FIELDS: Yes, it was.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: — and it took a long time. I've been on other state agency and other public entity boards, and, you know, they do a great job; they run it well, and it's been looked at by an independent, seasoned, very savvy outsider who came in and scrubbed it [coughing] ‑‑ I mean, done a very dedicated job implementing all of the recommendations, as you can see there.
MS. FIELDS: Thank you. Next on the agenda is the proposed fiscal year 2008 Operating and Capital Budget for your consideration. Tomorrow we will be asking for your approval of the budget. So — as we've discussed the budget today, I will recap our process to prepare the operating budget. We'll review the financing of the budget, provide a couple of summaries, review the capital budget, recap our full-time equivalents, FTEs, and then I'll wrap it up with just a few key riders.
For the most part, our process for preparing the operating budget is similar to prior years, so again I'm just going to touch on a couple of key points here. We did use the appropriations received via the 80th Legislature as our starting point. With the appropriations that we received, we were able to establish the operating budget at, or pretty close to, 100 percent of the 2007 base budgets for the divisions.
Next, we allocated the exceptional item amounts to the appropriate divisions. For the divisions that support our agency, we did balance our funding for our Fund 9 activities that support the resource divisions and law enforcement versus our Fund 64 activities that support state parks.
As we have done in past years, the divisions were given the opportunity to request additional funds for their budgets. If the funds came with their own appropriation authority, we did move ahead with those. An example of those types of requests would be federal funds and donations. We did not budget salary lapse to meet budget demand. As positions are vacant throughout the year there will be related salary lapse generated, and we'll hold those funds as contingency. And we'll apply them later in the year as needs arise.
MR. COOK: I want to comment on that one because every division here over the last five or six years has worked very hard to get to this point. And I've always called it, betting on the come. You know, we know there's going to be salary lapse. In the past, go back a few years we've always budgeted; we've always bet that that was going to happen at some degree, 3 percent, 4 percent, 5 percent, whatever it is.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Right.
MR. COOK: Therefore, we've never had any emergency contingency funding available for whatever the issue might be. This allows us, not budgeting salary lapse, which generally runs in that range of 3 to 6 percent, to ‑‑ you can actually narrow that down to probably more like 4 to 6 percent. It gives us the ability to come in in January or February, or the spring of the year, we have something going on, something happening — several hundred thousand dollars available to focus on an issue or to address a problem out there. And it is salary money, it is, you know, there are some limitations; it doesn't necessarily free us up to buy vehicles or some of those kind of things that we're restricted on, but it certainly gives the agency some flexibility that we have not had in decades. And I think that is real important, obviously.
MS. FIELDS: It is something we've been striving for, and we're there.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good. Okay.
MS. FIELDS: Thank you, Bob.
The last point I'm going to make here is about — what the overall process is. That we did budget our capital items at 100 percent, and we have the authority to increase those line items up to 125 percent. And we may elect to add some capital at some point during the year. You know, if some of those lapsed funds are out there, there is some ability to grow capital items.
Let's review how the budget was financed. As I mentioned, we start with the amount of appropriations that were received from the Legislature via the General Appropriations Act. This session was a bit more complicated because some of our appropriations were contingent on certain bills being passed. The funds for these bills were outlined in riders that appear at the back of the General Appropriations Act in Article 9.
As those bills were passed, we did add the additional appropriations. We also have 35 agency-specific riders, that limit how our funds can be expended within the agency. And we will talk about a few of those riders at the ‑‑ toward the end of this presentation. We're also capped at the amount of full-time equivalents we can have, and that cap is at 3100.1. This was a —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I like that, point one.
MS. FIELDS: Yes, point one. It's a full-time equivalent, so —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MS. FIELDS: Not a person —
MS. FIELDS: This was a good session for us ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MS. FIELDS: — as you know. And the next four slides highlight the additional funds that we added to that base budget. The first two slides I'm going to cover highlight additions to state and local parks, and these two ‑‑ the two slides total $75 million.
As you can see here, we increased State Park salaries and operating by $12 million. Capital items increased by $3.8 million. We applied $3.3 million to minor repair, and $2.7 million went to the support divisions.
Local parks received an additional $26.5 million. This does include the $16.7 million that was designated for specific parks. And the balance goes to bring the local parks back to the $15.5 million per year that they used to receive.
While we did not receive any new money for land acquisition, we are allowed to spend our land sale proceeds, and we can carry forward unexpended balances. We do have the $9.3 million that relates to Eagle Mountain Lake that we'll be carrying forward. And there's another $275,000 of park-related proceeds that we will carry forward.
There is $17 million of Proposition 8 bonds that were added to the budget for statewide park repairs, then there's another $27.1 million that's contingent on voter approval in November, and another $25 million in bonds for the battleship are also contingent on voter approval. So if those bonds are approved, we'll add that $52.1 million to the budget later in the year.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: If I can just speak to this quickly. This is something that the Legislature really helped us with. The parks had gotten way behind relative to dollars being allocated and appropriated to be able to be spent, particularly on the capital improvements and even normal day-to-day operational repairs. And so the Legislature was very cooperative. And it was quite a battle; and Walt Dabney and a lot of other people in the agency helped educate our legislators. And as they learned the needs, they came through. So it was a good session. It's now our job to spend this money wisely, and that's what we're in the middle of right now. So, Mary, thanks for showing that. I think that's important.
MS. FIELDS: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Chairman —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — if I understand it, those items that we just discussed about — coming out this fall to be voted on. They're all rolled into one package, we ‑‑ they are not just items for state parks; it's all a part of that big dollar amount, I can't remember ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. I think it's almost a billion dollars of bonds. Mary, help me ‑‑
MS. FIELDS: I'm as — that —
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: It's going to be a lot more than a billion dollars —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Proposition 4 is about a billion dollars, of which you can see we're really a very small amount. So there's a lot of things that are going to be on that list that the voters are going to vote on.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: They either vote for the whole ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yea or nay.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — package, or —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Or against. That's correct.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — against.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So we're going to have to do some homework.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Uh-huh.
MS. FIELDS: Yes, sir. The next couple of slides highlight $25 million of additions for other areas and departments. There was $4.9 million added for the East Texas Fish Hatchery. Law enforcement received $1.27 million to put 15 additional wardens in place for border security, and another million for game warden operations. And we received an additional $1.5 million to cover the gap between our cost to provide data center services versus the price that we will pay the Department of Information Resources to acquire services from IBM.
MR. COOK: Quick point on that one. For them to do ‑‑ and I want you to understand this ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. COOK: — for them to do what George Rios and his shop were doing, is going to cost the state more. However, in the 27 agencies involved, I do believe that the consolidation will be beneficial to the state. And so they're helping make up the difference for the really lean and effective agencies like we were. And I want to give that credit to George Rios and his folks down in IT, who continue to do a great job, and ‑‑ but it's part of our culture here at the agency that I encourage you to be aware of and to support, in that, you know, getting effective people and working hard to do the job. And that is — this is one of those that just jumps right out at you. As soon as we got into it we were going like, I'm not sure you guys are going to be able to help us out a lot here.
And — but we've worked it out. We worked with them; we worked — we're still working on it. Right, George?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Always working on it.
MR. COOK: I think we're getting there.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. But this is part of the business plan that was put in place that Commissioner Montgomery talked about, that Mary and George and just everybody has jumped on over the last five years, and ‑‑
MR. COOK: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — as you've said, it's really become a tight ship, and as it turned out, the Legislature recognized this, and by this consolidation that's going on through many agencies of IT systems, where everybody's going into one system essentially ‑‑ as it turned out it would have cost us a lot of money.
MR. COOK: Uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And the Legislature recognized that, and is actually giving us dollars to help offset that. So.
MS. FIELDS: And we are appreciative of that ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, very much so ‑‑
MS. FIELDS: — it was a major undertaking, and it still is, so ‑‑ as Mr. Cook highlighted. Let's see. Moving ahead, here. State employees received a 2 percent pay raise this year, and there were some Schedule C increases for our law enforcement. So I have a total of $3.4 million in salary increases.
We're carrying forward $445,000 of land sale proceeds for the Fund 9 related acquisitions, and we anticipate future proceeds to be added relating to the game warden academy, when that's sold.
Finally, there was $12.5 million added for a coastal erosion project, but we will transfer that amount to the General Land Office via an interagency contract, and we are working on that.
While there were several positives during this session, there were also a few reductions to discuss here. As you're all well aware, we are transferring 18 historic sites to the Historical Commission, and that transfer amounted to a $2.8 million reduction to our base, since we will no longer operate those sites. The other transfer is for the Texas State Railroad, and that results in an operating reduction of approximately $600,000 ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Mary, sorry to — on the Historic Site transfers though, that was an agreement between Texas Parks and Wildlife and Texas Historical Commission, is that right? THC?
MR. COOK: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And the dollars go with it, as they should. And there were roughly, what? Fourteen sites transferred?
MR. COOK: Eighteen.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Eighteen, again eighteen. So that was an agreement between the two agencies —
MR. COOK: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I just wanted to make sure everybody understands that. That we agreed; they agreed; the money's transferred. It wasn't pushed or forced upon us. It was something that we all agreed on, and I think it makes a lot of sense for both groups. So personally I think it's a positive.
MS. FIELDS: I spoke earlier during the session about, there was ‑‑ we used to have an Administrative Reduction Strategy, and that reduction amounted to close to $500,000. They did eliminate that separate strategy and rolled it into our other strategies, but we did take that reduction.
And finally, the appropriation bill does include revenues that we have not yet collected. And so we did reduce the amount of appropriation by $7.9 million because we haven't earned those funds yet. So we'll budget them as we earn them.
This next slide basically cross-walks the budget. And it starts with the General Appropriations Act, and then we make adjustments to get to our total operating budget. So we start with the $291.1 million, and there ‑‑ we roll ‑‑ I rolled several of the adjustments up. We talked about those contingent funds that were tied to some bills. There was an increase of $24.6 million there. Employee pay raises of $3.4 million. We added federal funds of $15.5 million, and you will see this category increase over the year as we sign additional federal agreements. We're adding unexpended balances of $44.8 million for construction and land acquisition, and I'll cover that in a little more detail when we discuss the capital budget. We are estimating our employee fringe benefits at $37.3 million, and we do set those funds aside in ‑‑ for the Employee's Retirement System. And finally I combined several other adjustments that resulted in a decrease of $10.9 million.
This next slide here (indicating) is a view of our method of finance for the budget. I will point out that we do earn about 40 percent of our funding when you look at the Fund 9, our Game, Fish and Water Safety Fund, which includes the license and boat revenues at 30 percent, and then you add the Fund 64 State Park revenues at 10 percent. The remaining funding there comes from general revenue at 22 percent. Our other general revenue dedicated accounts are at 8 percent. I will mention the largest account in that group is Fund 467 for our local parks. And then the other category includes bonds, land sale proceeds, and other funds; that's at 14 percent. And then finally federal funds at 16 percent of the budget.
We do have a pretty complicated method of finance, and it's a challenge to keep up with all of these various funds and sources, but —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: But keep it flowing, though, is the key.
MS. FIELDS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. Try to create more revenue, that's another thing too.
MS. FIELDS: Yes. So moving on to just summarizing the budget in a couple of different ways, this first summary gives a broad overview of our budget by object of expense. And I've included comparable totals to fiscal year 2007. You can see the salaries are up, and that's expected due to our increased employees in state parks and law enforcement and the other divisions, along with those employee pay increases that I've talked about.
The operating budget has increased primarily for the state park operating. With grants, you can see the impact of the additional funds that were added for local parks, and the capital expenditures include all of the capital budget. And you're seeing there the impact of those additional bonds that I discussed and then some unexpended balances we're carrying forward. The debt service there is for the Prop 8 bonds that are in the budget, and the revenue bonds for the hatchery.
These next couple of slides just highlight our budget by divisions. You see the division's budgets in millions and the percent of the total Agency budget, just to give you a sense of the size of each division. And I'll just mention that this is how the Agency really operates with our budgets. Each division has a detailed budget that they manage. And actually there is, within the handouts that Ms. Hemby handed out to you, there is an Exhibit B in there that basically lays out each of the division's budgets. But I actually like that summary because it also includes that budget by object of expense for each division, and it includes the full-time equivalents for each one. So it's just a one-page kind of nice look at the budget.
There's also another exhibit, and I did not prepare slides for it. It's our agency budget by strategy at Exhibit A in your handout. This is how the Legislature really views our budget. We do have 28 strategies, so they're not on a slide, but you can see them there. And it also includes the method of finance for the agency, which is — relates to that pie chart that we just reviewed a couple slides back.
In looking at the division budgets, there is a category called, department-wide and it is fairly sizeable. I do usually get questions on, what's in department-wide, so I did go ahead and do a summary of that here.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good.
MS. FIELDS: We do have $20 million that we're holding in construction right now, and we just haven't ‑‑ we haven't designated all of that to the specific divisions. As soon as those projects are prioritized and highlighted, we will move those budgets. The remaining areas, really those are areas that support the entire agency, so we put them in department-wide.
Moving on to the capital budgets, I have provided an overview here by category. This first column that you're looking at is the base amounts for capital. And then we add amounts that we're able to include via Rider 20. This rider allows us to grow our capital items for federal or other funds that are designated for a specific capital purpose. And finally, we are showing unexpended balances from 2007, that we're carrying forward. So you see the land acquisition. That's those — primarily the Eagle Mountain Lake proceeds, and then we have construction and major repairs carrying forward at $34.8 million. So when you come down to all of our total capital budget, we're at $83.7 million.
Next, recapping our full-time equivalents, while it was good to get an increase in the FTEs, showing our capped amount does get a bit complicated, so I'm going to walk you through this. The first two lines total the 2901.8, which was our FTE cap for fiscal year 2007. The next couple of lines show the number of FTEs that were added to — due to the state park exceptional items. Next, we see the additional game wardens being added for border security, additional staff to implement parts of the Water Bill, reductions for those historic site transfers, and the transfer of information technology services to the Department of Information Resources via the IBM Data Center. So this brings our total FTE count to that 3100.1, that we talked about earlier, which is an increase of 198.3 FTEs over the prior year.
Just one other quick recap of this ‑‑ I wanted to show you kind of a comparable between '07 and '08. You can see our budgeted FTEs, and then in gold, the cap. And we are going to be fairly tight this year with our FTEs. We did increase them a little bit more than we did in the prior year, so we'll watch our FTE count closely. We are required to stay within that cap.
MR. COOK: It's a real — I just want to comment, here. This is a really positive thing. This is very, very healthy, and particularly in state parks —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. COOK: — you look at the — go back a slide there, Mary.
You look at that list, and I think one of the important things to point out there, the 65 and the 9 in the parens down there ‑‑ you know, yes we lost those FTEs but they went with the property. So we do not have that responsibility. If I'm looking at what I've got to do and what I've got to do it with, I've got a lot ‑‑ to do, what I've got to do with. You know. So it's a, really a positive thing we very much needed. We are in the process of advertising, hiring. Walt is well on his way to having these folks in place in our state parks, and we are very appreciative of that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, the Legislature was great. But I mean, but one of the examples is the Legislature required that there be 16 new auditors added. And so some of it was needs that were already there within the agency, and some that the Legislature wanted as they ‑‑ as you saw, upped our budget fairly dramatically, particularly compared to some other agencies, on a percentage basis.
And so all in all I think it was a fair trade-off ‑‑
MR. COOK: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — and so I think we're in pretty good shape. And this helps Walt particularly get the parks back on some kind of even keel. We've been kind of sinking slowly, haven't we, Walt? So I think this is going to be a big help. You know. Yes, sir?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: On a historical note, I think Bob, if I remember right, was it in 2000 that we had over 3,000 FTEs, and this is the first time since then we've gone over 3,000, if I remember right?
MR. COOK: We've — that's about right year, somewhere, 1999, 2000, 2001. We were I think slightly over 3,000, or maybe, 3,026 comes to mind, something like that. And since then, we've been notching down, and this really ‑‑
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: And the point there to me is the FTEs do — services were not —
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: — a lot of people out in the field, headquarters shifting those around. So over that five, six-year period, service delivery actually went up; people in the field went up, however they come out; the straitjackets were taken off now, but it's still again ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Or, well —
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I want to make the point too, that it's — not like they're going to be just bogged down with people. You know. These are very, very specifically placed people, park by park by park. We've listed out, as you may recall in our request ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, yes. By park ‑‑
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: — specifically by park, you know. What was needed, the staffing that was needed, and that's where those funds are going to be directed.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Right to those exact things that we asked for.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right. And Mr. Montgomery, not to argue, but the one area we had started getting hurt in service was in the parks.
MR. COOK: Oh, no question.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — and that if we hadn't had the volunteer help, there were parks we were having to cut back hours — and I think there's a potential there if we do it the right way, is as these people are added they will produce more revenue, which is the goal. And that's one of the things that we talked very strongly to the Legislature about, they came to agreement with us on it, and allowed us more FTEs ‑‑
MR. COOK: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — and more dollars with that, to go out and search for and create more revenue. And I think ‑‑
MR. COOK: Uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — that's going to be our job, to ‑‑ well, from now on, of course, but particularly over the next couple of years, is really focus on that.
MR. COOK: Right. Let me — add to what I'm saying, because that's the point I was trying to make and you're making it better than I was. We were understaffed dramatically on parks ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. COOK: — we had increased service to them but outstripped capacity ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Exactly.
MR. COOK: — I just wanted the new Commissioners to know, this place isn't overstaffed.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, good point.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We're catching up. Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, if you look at the population growth just in the state, much less the people coming into the state who want to go to our parks ‑‑ so there's a lot of demand there, and we need to fill it.
MS. FIELDS: I'll move on to the last topic to cover relating to the operating and capital budget and that is our key riders. We do have several of them. We've reviewed these riders in quite a bit of detail during the budget workshop in July, so I'm going to just quickly highlight them today.
This first set of riders are the audit-related riders. When we received those additional appropriations, we also received several directives on how the money could be spent, as well as expectations that audit recommendations would be implemented, studies would be performed ‑‑ excuse me; reports would be submitted, and in several instances we will submit reports to the Legislative Budget Board and the Governor's Office, and we will need to have plans approved prior to release of funds for some of the specific purposes. So we'll be very busy this upcoming biennium addressing all of these requirements.
The next slide highlights some other key riders for our agency relating to basically carrying forward unexpended balances, exempting us from capital provisions in certain circumstances, appropriating balances and land sale proceeds, and implementing recommendations from the Legislative Budget Board; they also did a review last year. We'll be reporting on the usage of equipment, and then the transfer of the Texas State Railroad and funds to be directed to specific local park projects. So several of those riders are — provide quite a bit of detail for us.
There were also a few key Article IX riders that included details on those additional appropriations, and bonds that we received via the contingent passage of those bills. And the bills did pass.
So that basically concludes my presentation on the proposed operating and capital budget. I'm going to move into the final segment that I'll be covering with you today. Annually, we are required to review the budget and investment policies, and again a copy of both of those policies is included in your handout for action items for tomorrow's meeting. There have been no changes to the budget policy so I'm just going to touch on couple of key points here. The Commission does authorize the executive director to approve and execute necessary expenditures, budget adjustments, and transfers. There are several different types of transactions that are detailed in the policy. Budget adjustments, excluding federal funds, and ‑‑ or federal grants and bonds that exceed $250,000 do require prior approval from the Chairman of the Commission and the Chairman of the Finance Committee.
And within the budget policy, one of the transactions is to allocate super combo license sale revenue to the related stamp funds. And it's — we have a documented methodology, and by implementing that methodology we also have related transfers of revenue to those appropriate stamp accounts. Our basic methodology really is to allocate the stamp funds by determining, really, how the stamps were used. And we do have a survey where we surveyed the super combo buyers and asked them if they used various pieces of the super combo.
So this slide here (indicating) basically just highlights how those various aspects or items are used. So I'm just going to cover the first one as an example. If you look there, according to the survey, in 2007, 94.1 percent of the super combo buyers surveyed said they did use the hunting license, versus 94.6 percent the prior year.
So, we are still actually bringing in survey results. I believe Gene told me we're ‑‑ about 30 to 40 percent have actually responded; we will continue to receive survey results and we'll do kind of a final analysis in September.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Do you — 30 to 40 percent of the total, responded?
MS. FIELDS: I believe that's correct. Of the survey.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Who were surveyed.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Oh —
MS. FIELDS: Of the survey.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Who were surveyed. So what would that sample size be?
MR. COOK: 5,000.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: 5,000? Okay.
MR. COOK: Statisticians have ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It's the methodology they've been using for a few years ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: The consistency is just, pretty remarkable.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: One question on the Upland Game Bird Stamp as an example, the percentage going down means, if I purchase the Upland Game Bird Stamp, there's less people hunting upland game birds than there were in the prior year?
MS. FIELDS: Of the survey respondents, yes. There's a fewer percentage that used the Upland Game Bird stamp. That's at this point. And I'm going to —
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: And is that the shift over to super combo, or —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That's right, but —
MR. McCARTY: That's only in the use of the super combo. Remember, this is just the super combo. And you may see people shifting in and out of the super combo, possibly just going to a straight hunting license with the Game Bird Stamp.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.
MR. McCARTY: So it doesn't necessarily mean the hunting population as a whole; it's just the super combo.
MR. COOK: And the purpose is to allocate the revenue from the super combo sales back to the appropriate —
MS. FIELDS: Accounts.
MR. COOK: — sections of it.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: But we don't have any reason to think that we have attrition out of super combo, to regular licenses, do we?
MR. McCARTY: No. In fact, we —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: It's the other way around?
MR. McCARTY: — our super combo sales are increasing ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: It's increasing. Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So — particularly, I mean as we continue to add stamps and so forth, we're seeing people move out of the combo into the super combo, and even out of individual hunting or fishing licenses, into the super combo.
MR. COOK: Which overall is a good thing.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Sure.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And see, we have to allocate dollars out. That's what they use the survey for. By statute, right? By regulation —
MR. McCARTY: It's an administrative rule.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Administrative rule.
MR. McCARTY: Yes, sir.
MS. FIELDS: And this next slide actually, this is kind of the usage from the survey. This next slide shows how the dollars will be applied to the various funds based on the items. And so you know at this point, most of our super combos have obviously been sold for fiscal year 2007, but we haven't closed the year out yet. So we'll have this, you know, $23.4 million of super combo revenue that will be allocated to those various stamp funds. So, I wanted to cover that because it is kind of a key element of the budget policy that will be approved tomorrow, or be up for action tomorrow.
Next, we'll just move on to the investment policy, and again this policy has not changed since the prior year. But as the governing body of this department, you are required by statute to review this policy annually, so we do cover it. All funds administered by Texas Parks and Wildlife are required to be deposited in the state treasury, except for the four funds that are highlighted on this slide (indicating). While they're not required, all of the funds do reside in the state treasury, except for Operation Game Thief. And those funds are invested in CDs in several separate bank accounts.
All bank accounts must be authorized by delegated investment officers, and they must be properly collateralized, and there are also specific reporting requirements that are included in the policy.
And that concludes my presentation. Are there any other questions?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I have one question. This is all the way back on the first, I think it's the first slide. Let me see if I can — no, it's not the first slide, but it's the state park receipts —
MS. FIELDS: Okay. Right there —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: State park receipts, that one right there. And the entrance number is down, slightly?
MS. FIELDS: It is down slightly. The park pass sales are up; so I think there could be a little bit of a correlation there; we are studying it right now. And it's a minimal amount of entrance fees that are down.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Do you think there's a weather tie on that?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: But Mark, also the Commissioner ‑‑ part of the issue at the parks has been the systems —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — where we have multiple systems. To be fair, the Legislature, one of the reasons they asked us to add more auditors was to try to get more consistency within the system.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And one of them was, entrance fees.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And how we're counting people. So these are some of the things we'll be looking at. And we're ‑‑ in the middle of, trying to figure out, you know, how we do that, how should we charge — and we got into some of the issues, just to give one example, I won't spend a lot of time on this, but: you know, how do you charge a school bus of kids, how do you count them, you know, what should we do or not do. And so we've been asked to look at all of that, and that's part of what we will be doing, going forward.
Yes, sir, Walt. Come on up, sure.
MR. DABNEY: Walt Dabney, State Parks Director. Just a quick clarification. I'm amazed that we're not down further, in entrance fees ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, the weather ‑‑
MR. DABNEY: — I mean, it rained us out completely spring break. It snowed and sleeted us out at Easter. It flooded us out on the 4th of July. We've got three or four parks still flooded out completely. And it has just been nonstop rain. If it ever quits raining, I mean, or it's more spaced out ‑‑ the lakes are full; the rivers are beautiful. I mean, we're going to jump up. I mean, I think Mary and I were both astounded that we're not just completely in the hole, because the weather has been amazing in places that have been last year in a complete drought, so I think that we're really going to go to town when we get a little break in this weather, or more predictable.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I will say, Palo Duro Canyon's attendance numbers as of August 1 have already matched their full year last year. So the parks of the state —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, everything's beautiful, I mean ‑‑ if you don't get caught in the rain itself.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right, yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I mean, it's just lush.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: You don't want to be down there when it's raining.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The state's as beautiful as it's been in years, I think.
MR. DABNEY: Annual pass sales were down until just recently and now they've exceeded, and that's corresponding to the weather as well. People are going to come back.
MR. COOK: One of our directives is that we don't complain about rain in Texas —
MR. DABNEY: No, we do not.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Walt, if you could, because I was going to ask the question of Mary but I think — discuss the railroad real quick. And where we are, and what we need to do relative to washouts and other issues. I think it's due. The Commissioners need to know where we stand on the railroad.
MR. DABNEY: Thanks. Steve Whiston maybe could give you more specific details ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. DABNEY: — but I think we've about got the fix worked out. We've got a good engineering estimate of what it's going to cost to fix, and a mechanism in place to transfer that money to fix not only the washout and get the track back in order, but to fix the one railroad car that was damaged in the derailment.
And if you need to know the specifics I'd have Scott or Steve ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, I think we may — are we on track then ‑‑
MR. DABNEY: We're going to get it fixed.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — to transfer, at the time ‑‑
MR. DABNEY: We are on track.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — because it was supposed to be September 1, help me on my date? Am I right on September 1?
MR. DABNEY: Right. We are out of it September 1. It won't be — I don't — it can't possibly be fixed by September 1, but it will be fixed as quickly as possible.
MR. COOK: By the statute, by the legislation, you know, technically, we are out of it. But we are going to continue to work with both groups ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good.
MR. COOK: — there's a local group, and the group that's — that they're working to contract with to (a) get it back in operation, and get it in good shape where we're coordinating with them almost I'd say daily, between Walt and Scott and Steve and Ann Bright, working with their contracting people, with their attorneys, with their repair people, so — technically it goes off our books September 1. But we are not ‑‑ just like the THC transfer, there are some little hiccups in there that we're going to help work through all of those issues, favorably.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right. Thank you. That way I won't be called Train Wreck Holt here ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sort it out, here.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: You're never going to get out from under that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I — please, Mark don't say that. Because this is the right thing to do ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — for the group up there, they have been a wonderful group, and then they've contracted with a private organization that operates these type of railroads throughout the nation. And the key was, you know, getting through the problem we've had with the weather and washouts, we had the two crashes ‑‑ that's, you know. And so I'm hoping we stay on track, and it sounds like we are. So that's —
MS. FIELDS: We're doing well.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, thank you, Mary.
MS. FIELDS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Let's see, where are we?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. All right, any other discussion by the Commission?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any questions?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Let me say having no other further questions I will place this item on the Thursday Commission Meeting Agenda for public comment and action. We're at Committee Item Number 4, Equipment and Maintenance Provider, Review System Rules, and Ms. Ann Bright is going to make the presentation.
MS. BRIGHT: I think Mary's left-handed (adjusting microphone). Okay. Good morning, Commissioners. I'm Ann Bright, General Counsel. I'm going to talk to you about the Maintenance and Provider Review — and Equipment Review System. House Bill 12 is a bill that you're going to hear a lot about over the next few months. This was an omnibus bill that came out towards the end of the session, and it affected not only state parks, but it affected a lot of the agency. This is the bill that transfers the historic sites, and there's just a lot in this.
One of the things it does is, it requires that the agency establish by rule an equipment review system, and a maintenance provider review system. The equipment review system is intended to basically require the department to sell equipment that is no longer usable. And it applies to maintenance equipment, and maintenance equipment is actually defined pretty broadly as equipment that is used to administer, operate, preserve, repair, expand or otherwise maintain real property, including improvements and fixtures owned or operated by the department.
What this requires is that annually the agency must determine if maintenance equipment has become outdated, and then to sell the outdated equipment as surplus. I think you probably saw back during Walt Dabney's presentation that he's done several times about the state park system, you saw a lot of equipment in there that was being held together with duct tape. And I think the idea is for us to get rid of that equipment.
I've already talked about the definition of maintenance equipment. The — under the statute, the Commission is required to establish by rule a review system that determines when equipment has become outdated and then to sell the outdated equipment. Part of the process of determining when equipment has become outdated is really determining which equipment this is going to apply to.
We are recommending that the proposed rules apply to capitalized equipment. And that's equipment having an acquisition value of $5,000 or more. The reason for that is that there are limits on the ‑‑ we have limited funds to purchase capitalized equipment. We have a lot more flexibility with equipment that is lower in value, which means that if it breaks, it's a little bit easier for us to go out and either fix it or replace it.
Under the proposed rules, maintenance equipment will be considered outdated if it meets any of the following three criteria: first, it is no longer operational and cannot reasonably be made operational. I think that's self-explanatory. Two no longer serves a department purpose. I think again that's self-explanatory. The third one is that it meets all of the three criteria, which is, it has a fair market value that is less than the cost to maintain it ‑‑the cost to maintain it or the cost to replace it is less than the annual maintenance cost; and we have sufficient funds and capital budget authority.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: So we may not have any equipment left.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, exactly. The third one is the big issue.
MR. COOK: The tractor with the duct tape may be gone, and that may be the last tractor we see —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We may never have another tractor.
MS. BRIGHT: And part of the reason for the second two is that, a lot of times it may actually cost more to repair, for example, a vehicle, but it's going to cost a lot more to replace it. And capital budget — and we need ‑‑ and so we've got to make sure that we're going to be able to replace it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And we have —
Ann, if I can interrupt, this is where Walt took it in, and the park site has been a real issue. The trucks they've been driving are the hand-me-downs from the game wardens. So you can imagine what kind of shape they are in when they get there. And we've had the point where we've had to not only replace the transmissions and engines in trucks that's worth more than the truck, but — and we were able to explain that to the Legislature, and so, you know, we've got some real help with this last round. And I know I keep emphasizing that, but I do want to make sure, because you're talking to your local legislators and the people that you deal with throughout the state, as Commissioners. Please thank them.
I mean, we got a lot ‑‑ we, you know, it was a battle as it should be, and we got to prove every point. But they really did come through. And it's going to be a big help for us. And the key now is to use that wisely over the next two years, create momentum so that we can go back to them, show them what we've done, so that we can then keep that level and raise that, continue to raise the level of being able to serve our constituents. So.
MR. COOK: This is kind of one of those, some people would look at this proposal, this set of issues here as being bureaucratic, redundant, whatever. But what Phil and Walt and the staff tried to do here was, incorporate a real common sense set of criteria here that you have seen, and be practical about it and yet be sure that we comply with the direction that was given.
MS. BRIGHT: One thing I should point out, although state parks is probably going to be the most impacted by this requirement, by these rules, this will apply across the agency. So it's going to apply to other areas of the agency as well.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Boats too? Like saltwater boats?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, yes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: If it's over $5,000.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Anything. Anything and everything.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: We've been rebuilding those boats for ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — since about 1890.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Noah's Ark.
MS. BRIGHT: Under the —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: One question, Ann. When we sell this, who gets the money.
MS. BRIGHT: We get the money.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: We do.
MS. BRIGHT: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: It doesn't go into the Legislature ‑‑
MS. BRIGHT: Well, it's going to go into some grand pot; I don't know that it's appropriated back.
MR. COOK: It goes to the — it goes into the state treasury ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, yes. All of them ‑‑
MR. COOK: — and it's not necessarily immediately available for us to use. No.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It then has to be appropriated back, which would be next —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Does that mean, will it be a labeled total there in the state treasury, Mary? This is ours, you'd better give it back to us? Let's get Mary up and give us the facts, instead of me.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: All right.
MS. FIELDS: I'd like to just clarify. When we do sell surplus property, it does come back to the agency in the form of an appropriated receipt.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh.
MS. FIELDS: And so we do have to spend those funds within the year that we sold the equipment.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: But they're ours, as though ‑‑ no rhubarb about whose it is? The money?
MS. FIELDS: No. That's correct.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I mean, it's appropriated already. I mean, you sell, it's appropriated —
MS. FIELDS: It comes in as an appropriated receipt, so it comes with the funds and authority. It does not ‑‑
MS. FIELDS: — that's correct. You have to spend it in the year —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You have to spend it in that year. You can't roll it over.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: I was just — what's the process of the sale of it?
MS. FIELDS: Well, there's — we do have, there's several rules relating to surplus property and they're ‑‑ they are open to nonprofit organizations, and we post the property out on a website. I'm not probably the best to speak specifically to the sale, but there are various regulations that we do follow ‑‑
MR. COOK: It's — and I think ‑‑
MS. FIELDS: — in the sale of property.
MR. COOK: — there are folks here in the audience who can help us out, but basically it is posted. All of the agencies do that, here's stuff that is surplus that is going to be sold, you can view it at this location, at this site — decision date at some point. I mean, you know, the what do you call it, State General Services Administration used to handle a bunch of that, used to handle all of it. It kind of flips back and forth between ‑‑ okay, no. That's you guys' responsibility, so it sits over here in our warehouse, or possibly out at a regional office in that area where people can come look at the truck or the boat or the boat motor or the, you know ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Do we have any —
MS. FIELDS: There are auctions. That's correct. Thank you, Steve.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Do we have any idea what the value, once we comply with this criteria, what is the value of the property out there that we are going to sell? I mean, so what kind of value do we have out there? Do we know?
MS. FIELDS: I don't know.
MR. COOK: I don't think it's going to be a ‑‑ I don't think it's going to be a real big number, because it is so — a lot of it is going to be sold as scrap. A lot of it, they will part out, you know. Some of the vehicles and stuff, they'll part out. But I think a lot of that stuff is going to be sold as scrap.
MS. FIELDS: Just as a — I can't give you a total for the agency, but the amounts are fairly minimal. I mean, boats are sold for $1,000, you know. Things like that. So, yes. Because they're pretty well used by the time we surplus them.
MS. BRIGHT: One other thing I'll point out is, as a result of this process, we will be able to give you a specific answer to that question. We'll know how much we're selling under this process.
Also, we're going to prepare, the rules require, the proposed rules we're recommending require an annual report regarding this equipment. And then within 60 days after completion of the report, staff would begin the process of disposing of the property. The other thing I should point out is that these rules are intended to address situations in which the department is mandated to dispose of property. We surplus property every day — maybe not every day but we do surplus it regularly. And so that process would continue to go forward.
The other part of HB 12 that we're talking about this morning concerns Maintenance Provider Review System. And this really concerns maintenance tasks. And those are defined as administration, operation, preservation, repair and expansion of personal property owned by the department, and real property owned or operated by the department.
And what it — this proposal will require that the department analyze whether there are certain maintenance tasks that could be better performed by a third party rather than doing it with our employees. Under the proposed rules, each facility will annually identify the cost of staff to perform specified maintenance tasks for that facility. For example, custodial work, mowing and landscaping and trash collection. I should point out that we have some facilities where we already outsource these services. And a lot of times those are going to be a small percentage of somebody's salary. You may have someone who does — is a park ranger but they may also clean the restrooms. So we're going to be working on the methodology to get that information.
The report will also annually identify the cost of contracting with a third party to perform those tasks, so each facility manager will identify those — what it would cost. And we would also include our contract management costs. Whenever we contract with somebody, we also have to have somebody that tells the contractor what to do, and what we're expecting.
And then the last part of that analysis is whether the quality of the result is going to be equal to or better than the quality of the task performed by staff. For example, Walt was telling me that at Garner State Park over the summer, people — we have a group that cleans the restrooms. That's all they do. They go around and clean each restroom and then they start all over again. If we have someone that's just going to come in once a week, the quality's obviously not going to be the quality of what we're getting now.
Under the proposed rules, the staff will begin the process of contracting with the third party to perform these tasks if the cost of contracting will — is less than the cost of staff to perform it, and the quality of the result is believed to be better than or equal to the task performed by staff.
And staff recommends that we — that these rules be authorized for publication in the Texas Register, then we'll come back to you in November after receiving comments, for adoption. And I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any discussion, any questions?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Ann, thank you. If there is no further questions or discussion I will ask staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required comment period.
Committee Item Number 5, Vessel Regulations. Mr. Al Campos will make the presentation. Al?
MR. CAMPOS: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Mr. Cook, good morning. I'm Alfonso Campos, Chief of Marine Enforcement. House Bill 3764 added something that was not available to marine dealers. We're basically talking about boat dealers and boat manufacturers, including boat distributors. They could not display their product out on the water by using their marine license in recreational settings, and in contests or events, namely, fishing tournaments. So that was a restriction that had been in place since about 2001. So House Bill 3764 expands the use of inventory boats for legitimate business practices, expanded now to include recreational use, and also use in participation in contests or events. Like I said, the fishing tournaments.
Now, the traditional use was — will still be allowed. Traditional use meaning, we can go show, or the dealer can show a boat to a prospective client, by using the — their marine license. But if they want to use it in other situations, then they'll have to issue, or they'll have to have a validation card and a decal. It's basically going to be a permit system from the department.
The expanded use is limited because the manufacturers and the boating industry, the dealers, they wanted some control. So it's limited; it's limited to no more than six consecutive days, or 12 days in any one month for a boat or a vessel.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: A single boat, in other words.
MR. CAMPOS: Pardon?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: For one boat ‑‑
MR. CAMPOS: For one boat, correct. Now, that permit can be used on a number of boats. But the industry did not want this abused, to be used on one vessel for an entire one-year or two-year period. So they wanted some type of limitations, or they asked for some type of limitations.
The validation card and decals on the boat are going to be required, and each use of the card and decals, it must be noted on a log that's maintained at the business, at the dealership, and that has to be available for inspection.
And the decals I'm talking about are the, you know, the basic boat decals that you have. Traditionally, you know on the marine licenses they did not have to have the validation decals, but now if they use them for recreational purposes, or for fishing tournaments, they will be required there.
Now, one validation card and decal set is issued to each licensee at no charge. But additional ones or additional sets are available at $120 each. And that's a program that we will be implementing beginning September 1.
We did have some comments, but basically in summary it was 17 comments, 13 agreed and four disagreed. And I'll be happy to address any questions that you may have about the program.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Let me ask you just so I understand: So you can buy additional decals for $120. Now, can they move those to various boats that they're using to do this ‑‑
MR. CAMPOS: Correct. They can be used from boat to boat.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Okay. So you can just transfer. Okay.
MR. CAMPOS: Yes. They can either be put permanently if you're just going to use them on one boat, or they can be on a placard ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Oh, okay.
MR. CAMPOS: — that can be displayed in one boat one week and another boat the next week.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: I see.
MR. CAMPOS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And was this something the boat industry wanted? Was it driven by the Legislature or by the boat industry?
MR. CAMPOS: Both.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Both. Okay.
MR. COOK: I'd say primarily by the boat industry. You know.
MR. CAMPOS: Yes. Traditionally, it was very restrictive. They wanted to use it, especially in the fishing tournaments, because they feel like this is an area where they can display their products.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Any questions or discussion for Al?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, thank you, sir.
MR. CAMPOS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. If there are no further questions or discussion, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission Meeting Agenda for public comment and action.
Committee Item Number 6, Implementation of Recommendation by the State Auditor's Office: Audit of the State Parks Financial Processes. Scott Boruff will make the presentation. Scott?
MR. BORUFF: For the record again, Chairman and Commissioners, my name is Scott Boruff, Deputy Executive Director of Operations.
I'm here today to do two things. For the benefit of the new Commissioners I want to go over the broad picture of the audit, and where we are. Secondarily and very important is, there were some specific recommendations related to Commission actions and Commission input that I'm going to be seeking input in and action tomorrow.
To start with, as background last November the State Auditor's Office came in during the pre-Legislative process as we were trying to gear up to ask for more money for state parks, and did an audit of the State Parks Division and related support activities that go on.
That report was issued in March of this year, so it was about a five-month process, pretty intensive both reviewing some of our processes here in headquarters as well as out in the field.
The report that came out was broken into four broad categories which resulted in 48 specific recommendations. And the broad categories were, Visitation and Potential New Revenue, in other words there was a recommendation that we should do a better job of counting our visitors in our state parks, and we should look for ways to increase revenue. That was the first broad category. The second category was Management Activities in the State Parks Division. The third broad category was the way we prioritize capital repairs and estimate those repairs. We should seek ways to enhance that process. And most importantly, the fourth broad category was, Financial Controls.
Financial Controls in particular had already been identified by our own internal audit group, about six or eight months prior to the beginning of the State Auditor's Office. And I will tell you that the majority of those 48 recommendations were not a surprise to us. Most of the recommendations that came out, we were aware of some deficiencies we had, they were to some extent related to the lack of funding that we had in order to get people in to do those jobs. But we take the recommendations extremely seriously.
In addition to the 48 specific recommendations in the audit report, there were five audit-related riders that Ms. Fields referenced in her presentation earlier. We internally decided to add those five rider issues to the reporting process. We are required to report several times on our actions to address the recommendations. So we have 48 rider recommendations and five rider recommendations that we are tracking in our reporting process.
We were required on July 1st to present the first report to the State Auditor's Office, to the Legislative Budget Board, and to the Governor's Office. We did that ‑‑ that was our Comprehensive Implementation Plan, how we were going to address each of the recommendations as well as the deliverables.
I will tell you that we have put an extraordinary amount of time into this; it's been a huge effort, thousands and thousands and thousands of man-hours have gone into this over the last four months.
The documents that we sent out on July 1st included a whole set of deliverables. We took each recommendation and broke it down into specific deliverables and due dates and responsible parties. We are on target; we did get an acknowledgment from the auditor's office subsequent to the first report on July 1st that it was acceptable, that the methodology we were using was on track and so we are moving forward.
Our second big deliverable is a report that is due on or before August 31st, to update the auditor's office and the LBB and the Governor's Office on progress. We have that report ready to go. Pending your approval tomorrow of two or three items that I'm going to go over here in a minute, we will submit that report tomorrow, a week early.
We have another major deliverable at the end of September related to our capital projects that we are on track for. We have contracted with a private vendor to do a study related to potential revenue impacts to capital construction projects that will be completed early next year.
So we're well on our way. We will continue to put a lot of effort into this. This has been, from the Commission and Mr. Cook's directive, the primary focus of the agency over the last few months so we could get ahead of the curve here. I want to particularly recognize all of the staff and I couldn't even begin to name them here. This has been a huge effort, all of Gene's people and my folks in all of these divisions have put in a lot of time into getting this thing done and done correctly.
We do believe this is going to help us do our business better, out there in the field. As I said, the financial controls issue is one that I think is of particular concern both to our oversight agencies and to us, and we're pretty excited about the potential for us in the next few months to have taken care of that.
We are on a parallel track there. We have developed and implemented, in fact this week we are in the process of training the field staff in a whole suite of financial control policies and procedures and methodologies that will allow us to have tight fiscal control at the park level, all the way up through the headquarters level and working with Ms. Fields and her staff in the Administrative Resources Division.
We have, for example, created an entire new shop in the Administrative Resources Division that will be monitoring and evaluating, analyzing and making sure we're doing this right. It's called the State Park Revenue Branch. I believe it has 11 folks assigned to it, 11 FTEs, just with the job of overseeing the financial resources and the financial processes of state parks.
Having said that, there are a handful of recommendations specific to the Commission and I will move into those. In order to implement one of the recommendations by the auditor's office, is to seek ‑‑ that the Commission would direct the staff to seek input from legislative oversight committees and local communities to maintain a State Park System that has statewide merit and serves our mission and goals.
I will tell you that this is something that we have been doing for a long time; we pretty regularly seek input from both our oversight committees and local communities. We, back in 2001 went through a statewide strategic planning process that resulted in a revision to the Land and Water Plan. We held focus groups all across the state, and we talked to all of our constituents in many different forums and formats, and we also talked with our legislative oversight communities.
I think the concern here is, there was no documented directive from the Commission to continue that or to make sure that we do that in the future. So one of the things that we are going to ask you tomorrow is, to endorse a resolution that would direct us to continue those kind of activities as we go forward in any planning process as related to state parks.
The second action item that we would like to see tomorrow is relative to a recommendation that says that we should seek the Commission's approval for prioritized criteria for capital improvements and repair needs. I will share with you that we have had a criteria for six years that we developed back in 2000, that pretty much reflects what you're going to see here today and tomorrow; some slight changes in the language; there's been a lot of time and effort put into it. It looks pretty simple and straightforward; it's not been quite as simple and straightforward to arrive at the final conclusion.
Once again, this is something that I believe we've been doing, it's just not something that the Commission has documented as a directive to the staff, nor have you formally approved these criteria.
The four criteria that you see on the screen before you are Health and Safety. This has been an interesting debate for us. First of all, these are criteria for planned projects, and I want to make that clear. What you don't see on this list is emergency repairs; we don't ‑‑ you know, emergencies happen. They're not something we plan.
So emergency repairs are something that we are going to do. And so the question has come up relative to Health and Human Safety, if there's some emergency that puts people at risk for imminent danger or some kind of injury, we see that as an emergency repair. And we're either going to close the facility, or we're going to fix it right away, and we're not going to put people in harm's way. And that is our first priority out there, is the safety of our folks that are coming to enjoy our facilities.
So when we say Health and Safety, the definition that we are using is, projects necessary to prevent hazardous conditions that might occur if they go unaddressed. And so those are the highest priority things; for example, leaky roofs. Well, a leaky roof isn't necessarily a health and safety issue unless it's been leaking for a couple of years, and the rafters are rotting and the ceiling's fixing to fall on people.
So those kinds of potential health and safety issues, we think, are the first criteria for us to target planned repairs. That does not imply that we have open facilities out there that are a health and safety risk for our customers. Those are emergencies.
Now, the second one, criteria that we propose that you endorse would be, Regulatory Issues. And those are for example, ADA requires us to have accessible facilities as we do construction. The state also has certain requirements for us. Obviously we need to comply with whatever state and federal regulations are out there.
The third criteria that we're looking at, we have decided to call Business Continuity. And that is, those repairs that if they go unrepaired would affect our visitation and revenue. If you don't repair restrooms, it might not necessarily be a health and safety issue, but if they are so bad off that folks stop coming, it is going to impact your revenue and visitation.
So those kind of Business Continuity issues we think are the third most important criteria after Health and Safety and Regulatory Issues.
And last and certainly not least, our Mission Support Projects. And those are projects that support our mission to provide cultural and recreational outdoor opportunities. So those things are important to us, and we think they should be included in the criteria, these are the four that we are going to ask you to support tomorrow.
Another recommendation, which does not require Commission action is a recommendation by the SAO to seek input from the Commission on several policy-related issues that we are going to propose. And I'm going to go over those one by one here. These are issues that ultimately would be policy issues that are directed by the Executive Director, but pursuant to the recommendation we would like to have input from the Commission as to your consideration for those proposed changes to policy.
The first set of those are relative to closures. And this is for parks that we would make the decisions to close, to stop operating. First of all, the policy, the new policy would require that we have public hearings before we close those. That was one of the recommendations of SAO. The second recommendation was that six months' notice to the Legislative Budget Board and the Governor's Office be provided prior to those closures. And the third recommendation was that at least two hearings before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission before a closure.
Now, I didn't bring the specific language, but I wanted to let you know that we tried to, as Mr. Cook always directs us, be practical, as well as appropriate here. Now, obviously if we have an act of God ‑‑ if a tornado hits a facility, it isn't practical to go six months out and ask the — you know, to tell the Governor, you know, we're going to close down in six months; or the LBB. If you know a flood washes out our facility somewhere and we have to close the front door because people are going to get hurt, so what we are going to write into the policy are some exceptions. We do believe it's appropriate if it's a planned closure; if we just decide it's not appropriate for a park to be in the system anymore, we think we can do that in a planful way. We think it is reasonable to give six months' notice, and it is reasonable to have two Commission meetings, and have the public give input.
But if it's an emergency, if there's some crisis that's looming, we think the Commission should have the opportunity to do what's necessary to protect the public and the assets of the agency. So that would be wrapped into the language of the policy.
MR. COOK: For the new Commissioners, especially, I would point out we haven't closed any parks.
MR. BORUFF: No.
MR. COOK: But for whatever set of reasons in the process, the legislative process, this time, this one came up. That if you're going to consider a real closure, shutting down business; closing the door and walking away or whatever it is, that we go through this process. We think that's appropriate. And we've got some parks closed right now; we closed them, you know, a month ago because they're still standing in water, for example, in Abilene right now, you know. We've got parks that, as Scott explained in the exceptions, but this is something that I think is appropriate, that if we — if the agency ever is going to really say, We're going to close this site, that we go through quite a process, public process to be sure that that's out there and understood.
MR. BORUFF: The second recommendation, sub-component of that particular recommendation from the auditor's office was relative to transfers. And that is, any planned facility transfers would require the submittal and approval of a management and operation plan from the receiving entity.
So if we were going to transfer a park to the City of Houston, as we did last year, we would require in advance a management plan and an operating plan from that entity before we would make the transfer.
Once again, this piece as well as the prior pieces would — whoops, would be wrapped into our Land Transaction and Conservation Policy, and for the new Commissioners I'll just let you know: last year we updated this policy to include several of the things you already see here. For example, if we propose a sale or a transfer of a state park in any form, not just total closure, we require coming back to the Commission in two separate meetings and talking to you. And we do require public hearings before that would happen.
So a lot of these things we already do, we just wanted to follow the intent of the recommendation and give you an opportunity to give us input before we tweak this policy one more time. I'd be — well, let me finish up.
The motions that you would see tomorrow would be these two motions: the first would be to adopt the resolution that would direct staff to seek input from legislative oversight committees and the public, as we go through any kind of planning process; the second would be ‑‑ for tomorrow would be to adopt the resolution for prioritized criteria for capital improvements. So those are the two that you would see tomorrow.
So I'm asking you for two things today. I'm asking you for some — oops. Asking you for some input on our policy changes, and I'm asking for direction to go forward with those action items tomorrow. I'd be glad to answer questions.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any questions or comments?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Looks pretty thorough, Scott.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: The policy changes seem very clear, very straightforward —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, yes they are.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: — very sound.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Yes ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, I think it fits directly with what the Legislature has asked us to ‑‑
MR. BORUFF: That's our intent.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — do. So — that's our intent, and I think Scott and his group have done a great job, so I really appreciate your — because it has been a tremendous effort behind the scenes, to get all of this done in a very short period of time.
MR. BORUFF: Just so, you know, we are going to be briefing the Commission at each Commission meeting for the next two years on our progress —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Please do, yes —
MR. BORUFF: — relative to the State Auditor's Office. Further requests —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, you're right at the top of the priority list relative to what we need to do, and going forward as we head through this biennium.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: And obviously we recognize the importance and seriousness of — take to heart what they recommended ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We are.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: — that we have dealt with in an appropriate manner —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. And I think a classic example is Scott and his group have done a tremendous job. I was shocked ‑‑ the other day I came in and spent a day and they'd already hired 14 to 16 auditors, for example, that had been required. I mean, I can tell you in the private sector I don't know if we could have gotten it done that quickly. And they'd found good people with — what would be the right term? ‑‑ lots of background and experience. So not real narrow auditors, but ‑‑ because we're going to ask them not only on the financial side but on the operational side, working with Walt and Scott and the group relative to the parks. So those are the kind of things that, they've moved very quickly.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Has the — have we given a preview of this to the LBB and the Lieutenant Governor's Office, or the Governor's Office?
MR. BORUFF: Yes, sir. We — not only have we submitted our reports on time, which is our ‑‑ a formal recognition preview; Mr. McCarty for example I think has met with the LBB on several components of this recently. Our intent, we have met with the State Auditor's Office on two or three occasions where we've had them come in and verify that what we're doing is appropriate.
Our intent is to continue periodic meetings with the auditor's office and the LBB, and the Governor's Office, as we move down the road, because we want to do this right, we want to be responsive, and we — although it's a lot of work, I think we recognize this is going to make us better — a better outfit at what we're doing. And so we're committed to this.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay.
MR. COOK: Mr. Parker, I'd — I want to say to you too, that those offices have been responsive. We've made some calls and said, hey, guys, come out and sit down and look at where we're headed, look at what we're doing, and tell us if you think we're on track or, you know, if you got suggestions, or — and folks are doing that routinely. And I appreciate that from them.
I see in the audience we have Tina Beck in the audience today, and Tina attends most of our meetings, and we welcome her, and appreciate the participation in this process.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Tina's from LBB —
MR. BORUFF: Ms. Beck is from the LBB, our analyst with the Legislative Budget Board. She works closely with us. I will say that, for example, starting today state parks is having four training sessions over the next four weeks where we will put some 250 to 300 folks through this financial control training. And that's a collaborative process; it's being led by the team that is headed up by the new Financial Control Branch in Administrative Resources. But it's a very collaborative effort.
We ‑‑ for the last four months since we got this report, we have basically had most of Walt's senior field staff in Austin helping us work closely with Administrative Resources to get this training put together and figure out how we're going to get these financial controls accomplished quickly.
MR. COOK: And this is where those financial controls will go on the ground at the park, in the little booth where the people drive up to it and pay their fee or check themselves into a cabin or a shelter or whatever it is. This is where that actually will go on the ground. So this training program that we're going into is critical. It's where it's actually going to happen.
MR. BORUFF: I will share with you that this is a lot of work, there's a lot of forms, there's a lot of processes that the state park staff are going to have to learn and have accomplished. We are, on parallel track, trying to find for the next Legislative session, an automated way to do what we're going to be doing manually in the interim. And so we are aggressively working through our information technology and AR and state parks groups to find a vendor that can automate all of these processes that are going to be manual in the interim. And that's going to be important for us, that's going to be a strong focus of the SAO team over the next year and a half.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Mr. Chairman, how do we, and you brought up the example of a school bus full of kids, and, you know, we — is it more important to charge them a fee or to — for the educational purposes, allow them access to the park.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: How — are we going to have a set of uniform guidelines or rules throughout our whole park system that are going to give our people guidance ‑‑
MR. BORUFF: Yes.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: — on how to deal with these issues?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes — that's an issue —
MR. BORUFF: Yes, you're absolutely, as I reported, the first set of recommendations was exactly those questions. Visitation, how are you going to count folks; how are you going to apply consistent methodology across the whole park? So the answer is, yes, we are right now developing those policies. There will be some consistency, there will be some guidelines. There will be some flexibility. I mean, one of the important things is to allow folks to be able to accommodate unique situations. I think the problem that was identified in the SAO, which we already knew we had, was there were too many — too much flexibility, there were too many opportunities out there.
So discounting is one of the things that, one of the recommendations in particular. How do you establish appropriate discounts. Because you will — well may want to discount children that are coming in, in order to meet the mission.
Now, one of the problems we had was because we had had such a cobbled infrastructure out there. For example, I mean, we had, I think, five different kinds of car counters. One of the things you do is, you count cars that come in after hours. We had all different kinds of technology, some of it not very good at all — we have all kinds of different computers out in the field, the division has not been very able to upgrade its technology, so a lot of the computers they're using in the field are old 286 computers from when we were kids, basically.
MR. BORUFF: So one of the things that we do —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, right.
MR. BORUFF: — you know, as we get new technology for example, I think just last week we got in all of our new car counters, so every park is going to have the same kind of car counter. We'll be able to use that technology to get consistent information.
Every park will have a set of strict guidelines about how they can discount, and how it has to be authorized, who authorizes it, how that information gets reported — so, the answer is, absolutely.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Can we publish these new guidelines on the website so that groups will know what they are prior to coming to the gate and not be disappointed or —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good idea.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: — I think that's —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: They can structure their day to accommodate our guidelines.
MR. BORUFF: We will pursue that.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I mean, obviously there's some special situations that you can't address. But I think just as a standard procedure issue, it would be great to have it out there.
MR. BORUFF: Good point.
MR. DABNEY: Walt Dabney, State Parks Director. Most of these school groups, Commissioner, don't just show up at the gate. We know they're coming, and any organized group will do that. But putting it on the web, we definitely will have that there. Our biggest problem with these discounts and so forth is we did not document clearly enough why the discount was given, and the new systems in place will absolutely say what it is and give you a range down to zero. Because I think this Commission still wants to make sure these kids don't get turned away because the financial ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right, right.
MR. DABNEY: — problems of coming into the park
precludes them from coming in.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.
MR. DABNEY: But we will document why we gave that zero entrance fee —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: And it's standardized throughout the whole ‑‑
MR. DABNEY: Yes, sir. It is.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, that's going to be the goal ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right, well —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — and it's going to take the training, and the training, and then training's got to get down to the levels ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: And then once we get it in place ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — standing in that booth. Yes.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Correct.
MR. BORUFF: The reality is, documentation was a huge piece of the recommendations that we got. A lot of the things we were doing, and I think we were doing appropriately, but when you're short-staffed and you don't have any equipment, I mean sometimes your priority is to get those restrooms clean and those lawns mowed and you don't pull out the pieces of paper appropriately.
But we're going to fix that. We are going to fill out the documentation appropriately. And we are going to standardize the way we do business across the State Park System.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And remember, a lot of our parks have been — in the last few years particularly, we've relied more and more on volunteer help and that kind of thing, and so, you know, there's going to be a difference of standards there too that we've got to —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ that will help that. Yes. Absolutely.
MR. COOK: Commissioners, before we leave this one and obviously a tremendous amount of work going on, and I was kind of looking around in the audience to see one of the group that ‑‑ of Walt's folks that has put a tremendous amount of effort in this project from day one, and that I thought that we all thought was essential to make the connection is the regional directors in the State Parks Division.
And I'm going to tell you: We've got eight people out there, eight men and women out there who have a huge responsibility. Most of them have somewhere in the range of 12 to 15 parks in their region that they work on a day-to-day basis.
But they have farmed out a lot of that duty back to their helpers or their, some of their lead park managers, and have been here working from day one; not just since we got the audit report, but during the SAO visit. And working with us, listening, hearing the concerns, understanding the significance of the concern and the importance of solving it.
Now, they're in the solution process, and the application of putting it — again, putting it on the ground. And I encourage each of you to get to know the state park regional director in your office. I mean, Ellen Buchanan, I know that Commissioner Parker has worked with Ellen on several occasions, on the railroad and some other issues. Randy Bell up in Waco; Brent Leisure, Larry Fowler up in the Panhandle — a great group, and they're doing us a great job.
They're not here today because they're probably out there digging and shoveling. But — that's part of it, and they've done us a great job, and I want to recognize them. They're essential in this process.
MR. BORUFF: Would you direct us to put our two items on tomorrow's —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, but any other questions or comments? Scott's ready to get out of the hot seat.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, Scott's done a wonderful job, because, you know, remember the Legislature just ended around what, June 1st or so. So all of this, and we've very specific timelines. And at the same time wanted to do the right thing by what the SAO wanted and the LBB wanted, and everything from the forms to the process. So I think we're on a great track. So anyway again, Scott ‑‑ any other questions or comments for Scott?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I would just add a comment that the management didn't wait on legislation. As soon as the audit was out, they jumped on it. And it's —
MR. BORUFF: Actually prior to that, to be honest ‑‑
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Right, right —
MR. BORUFF: — but we only had the specifics as of March. So since then we've been full bore.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I was just emphasizing the good faith, alternative humble approach to ‑‑ you know, not lashing back at the report saying it's wrong, but saying, okay, let's fix it; let's go. Well done.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good point. Scott, thank you.
MR. BORUFF: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any other questions or comments?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. I will place this item on the Thursday Commission Meeting Agenda for public comment and action. Thank you, Scott.
Number 7, Item 7, Duck Stamp Fees, Tom Newton.
MR. NEWTON: Good morning, I'm Tom Newton. I'm the License Manager.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Hello, Tom.
MR. NEWTON: The Legislature authorized by SB 1668 for us to implement an electronic duck stamp. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recently implemented a program for state agencies such as Texas Parks and Wildlife to issue the federal duck stamp electronically. Texas is one of nine pilot states, which includes other states such as Arkansas and Florida, New York, Colorado and others.
The electronic stamp will be available initially at TPW Headquarters, law enforcement offices, state parks, Internet and the call center. That's a total of about 109 different outlets.
The changes that will — for license year 2008 there will be a $2 increase in the price of the stamp from $15 to $17. This will cover the cost of fulfillment and any transaction fees. It's pretty much a total pass-through for us.
The customer will be issued a document, along with his license, if he buys it in conjunction with a super combo, that will have a validity date on it for 45 days. During these 45 days, Amplex, who is the fulfilling entity, Amplex Corporation will fulfill the duck stamp within two to three weeks. And that will come by mail, and once the — when the license holder receives this stamp he can pitch the document, it's no longer valid.
For future availability, as I said, this year is a pilot year for us. Next year, if things go as planned, we'll roll the electronic duck stamp out to the rest of our retail outlets. This would be over a total of over 1600 different sales outlets throughout the State of Texas.
Under comments that we've received, we had ‑‑ 15 respondents agreed, citing increased availability that this will bring; five respondents disagreed with the resolution, citing the cost increase.
The benefit for the — is mainly for the Feds. They'll establish a central distribution point and be able to have tighter inventory controls. All of the stamps will be in one location versus thousands of locations around the state and the nation.
The benefit for us is of course we'll increase sales outlets also for the duck stamp which will eliminate shortages that have occurred in the past at your local post offices, or — you know, wherever, that have a fixed number of stamps, physical inventory.
And the recommendation tomorrow will be to — about this.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any questions or comments for Tom?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Just a quick — on the retail outlet availability, that's a certainty, or they're waiting on the results of this year, the pilot program? Or that is definitely going to happen in 2009, that it will be extended?
MR. NEWTON: The plan right now is that it will happen in 2009. We've got —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good.
MR. NEWTON: — this year to work a few bugs out. We've got the document that I was telling you about, is similar to the — identical to the license, basically. It would be — it's going to be cumbersome to a lot of our constituents initially. Our plans are to use this year to perfect the system, move this document to, you know, just to occupy a tag up here (indicating); not really a tag, but it won't be — it won't function as a tag. It will just have the federal duck stamp with the expiration up here, get rid of this (indicating). So that's what we're going to be working on.
MR. COOK: Tom and the guys have done a great job. I see Vernon Bevill in the audience here, and Mr. Bevill will at your leisure relay some of the 15, 20-year history behind this project. We didn't get exactly what we wanted this year, but we're going to continue to work on it and get there, and sometimes working with the folks that cooperatively we've worked so well with, at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, takes some time to get there. But I believe we are honestly going to get there, to an e-stamp on our federal duck stamp.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Tom, thanks. Any other questions or comments for Tom?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Let me see. I will place this item on the Thursday Commission Meeting Agenda for public comment and action. Thank you, Tom.
Is there any other business to be brought before this committee? Mr. Cook?
MR. COOK: No, sir. I believe that's it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. That was kind of a long one, wasn't it?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Longer than Regulations ‑‑ that's unusual.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any other discussions about Finance Committee or anything before we pass it on to Regs?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: This Committee has completed its business, and we will move on to the Regulations Committee.
(Whereupon, at 10:30 a.m., the meeting was concluded.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: August 22, 1007
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 128, 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.
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731