In wake of state closures, city to take over Florala State Park

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As the state shutters five state parks amid budget cuts in Montgomery, one Alabama city is taking matters into its own hands.

The Florala City Council voted on Wednesday to approve a plan that would transfer the park into municipal hands. Paperwork is currently underway to finalize the takeover, including moves to absorb utilities payments at the park and hire a temporary manger to oversee it.

The move was first announced on October 15, when the parks closures went into effect. Auditor Jim Zeigler loudly criticized the moves, saying the moves were unnecessary and amounted to “bad management.”

“Will services remain the same? Absolutely not — they will be better,” Florala Mayor Robert Williamson said of the plan.

Mayor Williamson said the process will be completely finished around the end of 2015.

Florala’s move mirrors that taken by Arizona and other states in recent years, when federal budget cuts and uncertainty led to national park closures.

The federal government shutdown in 2011 was a windfall for the Arizona state parks system, said system manager Ellen Bilbrey.

“We have five state parks in the Yavapai County area and they all showed significant increases” following the shutdown, said Bilbrey. “Visitors were coming south and traveling around and hanging out in those areas which they probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Whether the move will signal a trend towards devolution of authority over state parks to cities remains to be seen, but Florala will be an interesting case study on the matter going forward, as the statehouse seems unlikely to replenish the millions in gate fees it it has taken out of the parks system in recent years.

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