Parks and Wildlife asks legislature for $2.2 million to bolster Keep Colorado Wild Pass launch – The Journal

A fisherman rows his boat at North Shore Marina on March 5, 2022 in Lake Pueblo State Park. (Mike Sweeney/Special to The Colorado Sun)

Challenges have disrupted the launch of the parks pass that underpins CPW’s new financial model

The Keep Colorado Wild Pass launch is not going as smoothly as planned.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife expects state legislators to give the agency a $2.2 million cash infusion to cover unexpected costs in the agency’s campaign to persuade vehicle owners to opt out of the additional $29 fee with your annual record.

The Joint Budget Committee, the legislative panel that writes the state budget, initially rejected the request, asking the agency to come forward to discuss the request for $2.2 million, which is about three times what CPW initially projected it would need to launch the pass. in 2021 and 2022. The agency told lawmakers last year that it would absorb those implementation costs into its existing appropriations, but now it needs help.

As the agency has tried to reach all drivers in Colorado and connected with the county clerks who collect the fee, the agency has spent more than anticipated. The Keep Colorado Pass launched as part of every vehicle registration on January 3 as an automatic payment unless owners specifically opt out and exclude the $29 from their registration fee.

Lawmakers adopted legislation in 2021 that allowed CPW to include the discount parks pass on all vehicle registrations as a way to increase funding for state parks, search and rescue, and avalanche forecasting.

Last fall, CPW sent postcards to every home in the state, sharing information about the $29 park pass. The agency now says it needs better customer service to handle refunds without burdening county employees. He had hoped to access the email addresses of Colorado vehicle owners through the Department of Revenue, but that inexpensive option was turned down due to data privacy concerns.

The agency has been able to cover the cost of implementation so far. But if the campaign goes ahead as planned, additional challenges could force operating cuts, Justin Rutter, CPW’s chief financial officer, told the JBC on Wednesday.

One challenge has been making sure vehicle owners know they can opt out of the extra charge by removing the $29 fee from their annual vehicle registration tax.

“We need to get that message across and…we came out of our echo chamber and really felt like we had to do the right thing as per the intent of the legislation,” Rutter told the committee.

CPW is betting big on Keep Colorado Wild Pass. Park admission passes and day tickets account for approximately one-third of the agency’s annual parks revenue.

The Keep Colorado Wild Pass, which replaces an $80 annual pass, is expected to provide more than half of state parks’ revenue. The goal is for more purchasers of $29 passes to generate additional revenue for the agency to increase investment in Colorado state parks and support increased park traffic. The pass is a cornerstone of the agency’s push to diversify revenue beyond hunting licenses.

In the first week of January, 28% of drivers chose to pay for the pass. In the second week, that percentage rose to 33%. The agency expects at least 20-30% of vehicle owners to opt out and pay the additional $29 for the park pass included in their annual registration fees.

CPW needs Keep Colorado Wild to generate $32.5 million for state parks, $2.5 million for Colorado search and rescue teams, and $1 million for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. The agency raised $24.4 million in $80 annual park passes and daily entrance fees in its 2020-2021 fiscal year, down from $26.7 million a year earlier.

“It’s early but…we’re on the right track,” CPW Acting Director Heather Dugan told the wildlife commission last week in a brief report that did not include details about the supplemental funding request.

Initial deployment is critical to CPW. Once a vehicle owner opts out of the additional $29 park pass, the fee will no longer be included in future registrations for that vehicle.

“If we start it right this first year, it will have a much higher return. It will anchor the participation rate that we will have going forward, so it’s really important to get it right,” Lauren Larson, director of the Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting, said in submitting the supplemental funding request to the Joint Budget Committee. about Wednesday. “What other states have seen is their first-year participation rate really anchors the program.”

The Joint Budget Committee unanimously approved CPW’s request for additional cash, but not without some scolding.

“I don’t appreciate departments just thinking they can bypass spending approval authority. That just shouldn’t be happening and I don’t appreciate it at all,” said state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, R-Brighton, who said the agency should have notified lawmakers about the extra spending last year.

State Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, asked CPW for details about the agency’s 18 current communications employees.

“If this is the kind of five-alarm emergency that we’ve been told about … taking an eighteenth of each person’s time and figuring out a way to do it would be something that would be a priority,” said Bridges, describing 18 workers from communications as “an unbelievably high number.”

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