Area state park to lose position to DNR budget cuts

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

NEW MADRID, Mo. -- Job cuts in the Department of Natural Resources Division of State Parks announced last week will hit close to home with at least one local post lost.

On Oct. 19, DNR officials announced that about 100 state parks employees would be laid off as a cost-cutting measure to deal with plummeting sales tax revenue.

State parks are supported by a tenth-of-a-cent sales tax. Sales tax revenue collected is falling short of that projected for the budget and down 6.2 percent as compared with the previous fiscal year, having dropped from $41.2 million in fiscal year 2008 to $38.6 million in the 2009 fiscal year that ended June 30. The cuts in personnel are expected to save $3.7 million this fiscal year and $6.3 million per year in future years.

"We do know we've had one position eliminated," said Michael Comer, natural resource manager for the Hunter-Dawson State Historic Site and supervisor for the Bootheel Management Unit.

In addition to the Hunter-Dawson State Historic Site, the Bootheel Management Unit also includes the Big Oak Tree State Park and Towosahgy State Historic Site in Mississippi County; the Morris State Park in Stoddard County; and maintains the Battle of Belmont marker, the site of Ulysses S. Grant's first Civil War battle located at the end of Highway 80 by the Dorena-Hickman Ferry landing.

Before the job cut, the unit maintained these sites with five full-time workers and two seasonal workers.

Comer said during a meeting held Oct. 19 at the district office in Festus his staff was advised of the loss of an interpreter position at the Hunter-Dawson State Historic Site filled by Vickie Jackson.

"She and my two maintenance workers were told what the status of their positions were," Comer said. "I have two maintenance workers that could be bumped by folks with more seniority, but nothing is finalized on all of that. We won't lose the positions, thankfully."

Comer said that while Jackson's primary duties were at the Hunter-Dawson State Historic Site, she also had duties at the other state park sites managed by the Bootheel Management Unit.

"She did most of our office support for the whole unit," he said. "We will have to re-assign those duties to other people."

Comer said part-time seasonal workers are paid through the operational budget. Based on budget cuts to the operating budget at the beginning of the fiscal year, "they'll still be employed, but we'll have to cut hours," he said.

Natural Resource managers for the other major state park facilities in the area -- Lake Wappapello State Park in Williamsville, Trail of Tears State Park in Jackson and Bollinger Mill State Historic Site in Burfordville -- were all out of the office Monday.

Sue Holst, information officer for the DNR's state parks division, said she didn't have any additional information about how the job cuts would affect these facilities at this point.

"Based on seniority and other options, these people have been notified and have options they can choose from," she said. "There's a process we have to follow with the merit system. Because of that we don't know exactly how it will affect specific parks and sites."

Examples of options include transfers to other positions, relocation and different work assignments.

Holst said it is too early to say whether DNR will have to close any facilities.

In about two weeks once employees have responded with their decisions, "we firm up the positions that will be eliminated and where they will be from, then we will take the next step and know how to best operate the state park system," Holst said. "That may be combining operations, or operational adjustments."

"Our challenge here is we have four facilities we oversee. There's interpretation aspects for all of them," Comer said of his unit. "I don't know if down the road it will affect our operational hours but we will still do our best to serve the public and let them enjoy all of our facilities."

"We are very committed to trying to maintain the level of services we have in the past for the state park system," Holst said. "We will have to determine how to best do that based on the staff we have available."

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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