Auditor Jim Zeigler says state parks closures “bad management”

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State Auditor Jim Zeigler again denounced the nature of budget cuts which have resulted from budget negotiations between Gov. Robert Bentley and a Legislature which is increasingly hostile to him.

Zeigler – who started a public campaign last month to prevent deep cuts to his own office – said closures of five state parks slated to stem from the current budget are unnecessary despite a budget shortfall patched up by lawmakers this month after nearly six months of fits and starts in Montgomery.

Barring drastic administrative changes, five state parks will close their gates October 15: Bladon Springs, Chickasaw, Paul Grist, Roland Cooper and Florala.

Zeigler said in a statement over the weekend the closures are not primarily fiscal in nature, but rather due to poor choices state government officials have made.

“Just in the past five years, $15 million made by the parks has been stolen from them and used to prop up other state programs.  If this money had been left within the park system, there would be no closures,” Zeigler said.

Zeigler says the parks generate “85-90 percent” of the money they need to operate from tickets, gift shop sales and fees.

While Democratic U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell has focused her efforts on mobile driver’s license facilities which will shutter due to budget cuts – an issue she has said pose a threat to the civil rights of rural Alabamians – Zeigler has largely focused on the state parks issue.

“The Bentley administration is hinting at more closures of more parks next year. We need better management and a long-term plan to keep the parks open. The simple thing to do is to stop taking money earned by the parks and let them keep it.” said Zeigler, a statewide elected official who occupies an unusual ombudsman or comptroller-like position.

“With a few changes, the parks can be self-sustaining and not rely on taxpayer funds,” Zeigler said. “Nobody in Montgomery is taking a lead role in getting this done.”

Zeigler will address the future of state parks on the day of the closures.

Zeigler is set to speak this Thursday, Oct. 15 in Hoover at the 5:45 p.m. meeting of Rainy Day Patriots, a Tea Party-inspired political group. The open-press event will be held at Hoover Tactical Firearms, 1561 Montgomery Highway in Hoover.

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