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Audit: State parks lose millions

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By The Staff

By JOE BIESK

Associated Press Writer

FRANKFORT — Kentucky’s state park system, which includes 17 resorts, has been a money loser despite hundreds of millions of dollars in recent investments, Auditor Crit Luallen said.

Since 2000, state parks have seen a steady drop in their occupancy rate and a corresponding increase in operating loss, according to the audit report released Wednesday. For the fiscal year ending next month, Kentucky’s parks system will have lost more than $30 million, the report said.

“Kentucky has the finest system in the nation, and we’ve made a significant investment in that system,” Luallen said. “Now, we have to ensure that our management approach matches up with that.”

Across the board, the parks system has been losing money, Luallen said.

Kentucky, since 1994, has spent more than $316 million on improvements and renovations at various state parks, according to the audit.

That includes renovations at existing lodges and building or improving golf courses throughout the state.

There are 52 state parks, including 17 that have resorts and are intended to generate revenue.

The system has received an average of $28.6 million in state funding since 2000, the report said. The agency asked for an extra $5 million appropriation to make it through the current fiscal year.

Between 1994 to 2008, the state spent nearly $55 million on golf-related projects. Still, the number of golf rounds played at Kentucky’s public courses has dropped steadily and golf activity lost about $700,000 during the current fiscal year, Luallen said.

Losses are occurring elsewhere, too. The state is losing about $1.60 on every meal it serves.

But that can change, Luallen said.

For starters, Luallen said, the state needs to spend more money marketing its parks system. This year, the state has allocated $480,000 for marketing in the current year.

That needs to increase, Luallen said.

“Kentucky has tremendous potential as a destination,” Luallen said. “Kentucky has the finest system in the nation, and we’ve made a significant investment in that system. Now, we have to ensure that our management approach matches up with that.”

Kentucky Commerce Secretary Marcheta Sparrow said the state will have to work within its existing budget to handle marketing. But the report is something that the cabinet will use to improve, Sparrow said.

“I think this audit was an eye opener for most people and probably came at a very good time,” Sparrow said. “We’ll be using it constructively to see if we can’t effect some change.”

The parks lost about $29 million in 2004 and were expected to lose a total of about $33 million in the fiscal year that ends June 30, she said.

Sparrow said the parks system is not intended to be a moneymaker, but it’s also not intended to lose as much money as it has been. Parks officials are looking at options to cut losses, and may look at reducing schedules or realigning services, Sparrow said.

“Everything’s on the table,” Sparrow said.