CPW looks at more expensive fees, licenses
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is trying to contend with rising expenses that outpace its revenue, so increases to parks passes and licenses for hunters and anglers could be around the corner.
CPW has seen multimillion-dollar deficits, and it expects that to continue.
However, CPW doesn’t have the authority to raise resident hunting and fishing license fees or park entrance fees, so it would take a bill being passed by the General Assembly to make those changes. Nothing has been proposed yet, but CPW and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources are considering a number of concepts to present in a proposal.
Colorado’s state parks and the division of wildlife merged in 2011; however, the agency’s budgets for parks and wildlife are still kept separate.
CPW parks, including trail, campgrounds and visitor centers, get more than 13 million visitors annually.
Prior to the 2008 economic downturn, Colorado state parks got about 30 percent of their operating budget from taxes. But once the recession hit, that money was diverted elsewhere in the state budget. CPW reduced full-time employees in its park programs by 5 percent, and seasonal employees by 10 percent. It closed Bonny State Park on the eastern edge of the state.
After tax money was reallocated away from parks, the agency used fee increases to make up the difference.
But the amount of revenue CPW can pull in through its parks is capped by statute. The agency has topped out, meaning it cannot raise its park fees any more.
“CPW has hit that cap, not because of price increases but due to high park visitation. As a result, CPW cannot raise park prices to meet rising operational costs,” according to the agency.
CPW is also forecasting certain expenses on the parks side that will be necessary over the next decade to maintain the status quo operations, and therefore may require fee increases. These include increased operational costs, delayed maintenance on infrastructure and a rise in minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020.
On the wildlife side of the agency, hunters and anglers supply nearly 80 percent of the funding through license fees and excise taxes. This side of the budget faces the same difficulties; expenses are growing more rapidly than its revenue.
In the last eight years, CPW says it has cut $40 million and 50 positions from its wildlife budget. “By increasing some nonresident fees, the ‘pay to play’ fee, and offering a nonresident big game/fishing combo license, we increased revenue by approximately $2.4 million annually. However, this is not sufficient revenue to meet current demand,” according to CPW.
It’s been more than 10 years since resident license fees increased, while inflation has caused an almost 30 percent increase in prices in general. “Between 2006 and 2016, CPW has forgone an estimated $39 million in lost opportunity because resident license prices have not increased with inflation over that time period,” the agency says.
Now CPW is looking at increasing license fees consistent with inflation, or face continued cuts to programs “to the detriment of our wildlife resources.”
Some big upcoming expenses on the wildlife side include dam repairs, implementing its mule deer strategy, already-delayed renovations to hatcheries and law enforcement radio replacements.
Some of the concepts the CPW is considering include allowing the commission to increase residential hunting and angling license fees over time until the prices are consistent with inflation.
Mike Porras, CPW spokesman based in Grand Junction, gave the example of residential elk licenses, which are still at the $45 they were in 2006. If they had been allowed to increase with inflation, those licenses would today be $58. Porras said that most popular licenses would only be increased by a maximum of $5 per year.
CPW is also considering increasing license application fees.
The agency may also propose changing its park revenue cap, allowing it to be increased based on inflation and increases in park visitation. “Increases in park entrance fees will be limited to no more than $1 in any year for a daily pass and $10 in any year for an annual pass,” wrote Porras.
The agency is also considering some steps other than simply increasing prices, including removing the requirement for 16- and 17-year-olds to buy a fishing license, or issuing discounted outreach licenses to target groups such as veterans and young people and recruit them into the sports.
“If a bill is not introduced, or a bill is not successful granting us authority to increase fees, our fee structure would remain status quo. Even if a bill passes, it would have to go through a commission process,” wrote Porras.
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Rifle and New Castle are seeing decent increases in tax revenue, according to financial administrators.