The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department (OTRD) is spending more than $24 thousand to study construction a new headquarters building to be built near the state capitol. Even though no timetable exists for construction, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association believes no expenditures toward a new state office building should be made until Oklahoma’s state budget situation is secure and the threat of state agency program cuts no longer looms over its citizens.
Earlier this year, OTRD officials discussed a budget cut scenario that would have closed as many as 16 state parks due to Oklahoma’s state budget shortfall. The agency has also transferred several properties to other entities to operate.
“State agencies struggle daily with how to provide services with limited resources and are not considering building new headquarters. I’m not sure why tourism officials think now is a good time to start planning for building a new state office building,” he said.
In Fiscal Year 2018, OTRD’s appropriation was reduced by more than four percent and it is still unknown whether some of last session’s revenue measures will withstand a court challenge. Additional reductions for FY2018 may be necessary. Also, Many state park properties have ongoing maintenance needs that must be met. The agency must ensure its vehicle fleet, especially vehicles used by park rangers, is safe, well-maintained and usable.
“Tourism’s top priority should be ensuring Oklahoma families have access to enjoyable, affordable and safe recreational opportunities. Some parks need modernizing,” Zearley said. “If the agency wants to build new facilities, build them at our parks where families can enjoy them. Some properties could be updated like OTRD did at Sequoyah State Park and Lake Murray rather than a new state office.”
OPEA members cannot support building a tourism office now because of the uncertainty surrounding the state’s ability to sufficiently fund core services, the need to support and maintain our current state park properties and the ongoing infrastructure needs at all state agencies. Now is not the right time for any state agency to begin planning to build new offices.
“OPEA will contact lawmakers to urge them not to fund a new state office until a time when state agencies and their services are fully funded and OTRD has made much-needed improvements to its state park properties,” Zearley said.