More than 100 Mo. parks employees getting laid off

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Employees in Missouri's parks system learned Monday that more than 100 positions are being eliminated because of declining tax revenue that finances the agency.

The cuts would get rid of roughly one out of every seven jobs in the Division of State Parks and Historic Sites, which manages more than 80 locations around the state.

An e-mail sent Monday to division employees by Department of Natural Resources deputy director Bill Bryan said the job reductions will be spread across the state, from the central office down to individual parks. He blamed the cuts on "challenging economic times."

"These reductions are not a reflection on the employees' service to the state park system but are necessary to balance the budget," Bryan wrote.

The parks division gets about three-fourths of its money from an earmarked state sales tax, with the rest coming from such things as souvenir sales and fees for camping and concessions.

Sales tax revenue has plummeted both in Missouri and nationally as consumer spending has fallen during the recession. Revenue from Missouri's parks sales tax fell from $41.2 million in the 2008 fiscal year to $38.6 million in the 2009 fiscal year that ended June 30. Tax revenue for the current fiscal year is projected to fall to $36.1 million, said department spokesman Travis Ford.

The personnel cuts announced Monday are expected to save $3.7 million this fiscal year and $6.3 million annually in future years, Ford said.

Precisely which employees -- or how many -- are laid off will not be clear for about three weeks, Bryan said, because Missouri's merit employment system allows senior employees who are given pink slips to bump junior employees out of their positions. That can cause a chain reaction of job shuffling.

The layoffs come as Missouri's parks system has been facing public scrutiny for its failure to close some beaches despite water tests showing high bacteria levels and its failure to publicize those negative test results.

On Friday, Gov. Jay Nixon said an internal review found 10 cases over the past three years -- half of which occurred this year -- in which public beaches at state parks were not closed despite high E. coli levels.

Department director Mark Templeton returned to work Monday after a more than two-week suspension without pay because of the breakdown in decision-making and communication.

Ford, who is the spokesman for the state insurance department, is temporarily also serving as spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources because of the controversy surrounding the department's handling of bacteria test results. He said there is no connection between the layoffs and the failure to close some beaches with high E. coli levels.

"This is 100 percent about the decline in revenue from the parks sales tax," Ford said.

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