Example advocacy letters for 2019 state budget
Below are links to examples of letters written to Gov. Dunleavy and the Alaska legislature advocating for trails programs cut or reduced in Gov. Dunleavy’s budget released in early 2019. If you write your own letter, please try to put your own spin on the situation rather than just pasting a new letterhead on one of these letters. Personalization always has a bigger impact than carbon copy letters.
- Running Club North letters that emphasizes the economic importance of trails to Alaska:
- Interior Trails Preservation Coalition letters to Gov. Dunleavy and a general one to our legislators.
(The below story was run in the March 2019 Alaska Trails and Interior Trails Quarterly newsletters.)
TRAILS WOULD FEEL BITE OF GOVERNOR’S PROPOSED BUDGET
Trails have not escaped the axe in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget, but it’s not always easy to see the effect.
One obvious affect is that the Snowmobile Trails Program is slated to be cut. A less obvious but much larger cut is that of a grant administrator who works on the federal Recreational Trails Program. It is unclear how that will affect the RTP program. It also appears that the administration is opting out of another federal program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Other less direct cuts will surely affect trail construction and maintenance across the state.
More information on possible effects was sought, but the state employees contacted have been instructed to direct all queries to the governor’s office, which has not yet responded to our request (and has not been responding to numerous other requests from other media outlets on other stories).
An overall view of how the Dunleavy administration is approaching this and similar cuts can be found in an Anchorage Daily News story on the administration’s approach.
“While the governor has repeatedly said he wants to make sure spending doesn’t exceed revenue, he has not explained his plans for delivering those services under a smaller budget.”
See the full story here: http://tinyurl.com/yy5zyt29
Trails advocates who want to protect these programs need to lobby the governor and the legislature.
—Gov. Dunleavy’s contact info: https://gov.alaska.gov/contact/
—Alaska State Legislature contact info: http://w3.legis.state.ak.us/
RECREATIONAL TRAILS PROGRAM ADMINISTRATION REDUCED
The Recreational Trails Program (RTP) is by far the largest source of trail funds in the state. Last year it brought more than $1.4 million to the state for trail development. The money comes from the federal government and is based on fuel taxes paid by off-road motorized vehicle owners. However, the state must pay about $200,000 to administer the funds. (Another $107,000 of administration is paid through the federal funds.)
Currently, the program is administered primarily by two state employees, the head of the Alaska State Trails Program, Darcy Harris, and a grants administrator, Steve Neel. Gov. Dunleavy is proposing to cut the grants administrator position, leaving just one person to administer the program. (This could not be verified for certain by the employees and the governor’s office hasn’t yet replied.) How this would affect trails in the state is unclear, but at least one trail advocate worries that RTP funding would go solely to state parks. Currently about half the funding goes to local governments and nonprofit groups.
Geoff Orth, a trails consultant and former president of Alaska Trails, believes that local governments and nonprofit groups will be cut out of the process in order to make the program manageable for one person to administer. State employees know the state bureaucracy and therefore are less likely to require support. (A knowledgeable state employee indicated that this is a valid concern.)
If that were to happen, it would make a big impact on trail development in Alaska. In recent years RTP grants have funded a wide variety of trail projects by local governments and nonprofits, such as the Kincaid and Hillside singletrack trails in Anchorage, Tanana Lakes Recreation Area trails and the Ester Dome Singletrack in Fairbanks, the Liewer Community Trail in Delta Junction, singletrack trails at Tsalteshi in Soldotna, and Mosquito Cove Trail work in Sitka.
Again, this is solely speculation, but there will be some sort of impact if one of two primary administrators is cut from the program.
SNOWMOBILE TRAIL PROGRAM CUT
While the Snowmobile Trail Program exists to fund a variety of snowmobile trails projects, in recent years it has funded just trail grooming due to decreased funding. However, that funding has still been significant. Last year, nearly $160,000 was distributed for grooming trails in a variety of areas in the Southeast, Southcentral and Interior regions of the state. (For a list of those areas, including maps, see: http://tinyurl.com/yys47ro6.)
The program is funded through snowmobile registration fees. Rep. Mark Neuman (R – Big Lake) has introduced a bill to increase registration fees for snowmachines from $10 to $20 every two years. Ostensibly, that was to increase funding for the Snowmobile Trail Program. Support by snowmachine owners for that bill will probably evaporate if the increased funds do not go to snowmachine programs. (Note: The Alaska Constitution does not allow for dedicated funds, but the Alaska Legislature has appropriated funds to the snowmobile program based on the registration fees collected.)
The Snowmobile Trails Advisory Council (SnowTRAC) is responsible for reviewing and recommending funding for the program to the state trails office. Dan Mayfield, co-chair of SnowTRAC, recently told Anchorage’s KTUU television news that ending the program would also end snowmobile trail maintenance crews.
“The end result of that will be that the SnowTRAC Program will end, and grooming organizations across the state would not have that money available to them to groom the trails,” Mayfield told KTUU. “Which will ultimately make the trails less safe.”
For the full interview see: http://tinyurl.com/yxpw9nua
The Snowmobile Trails Program was cut by Gov. Bill Walker in 2015, but was put back in the budget after a strong lobbying campaign.
PARTICIPATION IN LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION FUND MAY END
Gov. Dunleavy’s budget apparently does not authorize accepting money from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This program is not solely for trails, but trails are considered a “high priority project” and many trail projects in Alaska have been funded through LWCF. The program has brought in almost $40 million in federal funds since it was started in 1965.
Why access to this program would be denied is a head-scratcher. It may be a mistake. If so, hopefully it is rectified soon. The program would make more than $1 million available to Alaska for this coming year.
LWCF grants are available only to state, local, and regional entities (city, borough, state and tribal governments) that have legal authority for public parks and outdoor recreation facilities. These grants require a 50-50 match, however, at least some of those matching funds have historically been paid for by the local and regional authorities.
“Typically, the State of Alaska opts to keep half of the federal apportionment each year for State projects (which the State needs to match 50-50); and offers the other half of the federal apportionment to local communities in a competitive grant round,” according to Grants Administrator Jean Ayers.
Permanent authorization of this program was a large part of the federal public lands bill recently passed by the federal congress. See Nationwide News and Notices for more.
OTHER POSSIBLE AFFECTS
Other ways Gov. Dunleavy’s budget cuts might affect trails are less clear. However, here are a couple of possibilities:
—Dramatic cuts to local governments will probably result in less funding for those trails, such as in the Municipality of Anchorage.
—Dramatic cuts to the University of Alaska Fairbanks may result in dramatically less funding for UAF’s extensive trail system.
—Staffing for the Department of Natural Resources could be cut. Very few people in state government work solely on trails, but many deal with trails as part of their jobs. If positions are cut, other duties may take precedence over trails.
—Pullouts along roads that offer parking for access to trailheads could see less maintenance, including snowplowing, as the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities focuses on keeping high-traffic roads clear.
Trail Easement Might Lower Your Property Tax
If you’ve got a recreational trail running across your property that is open to the public, you may qualify for a reduced property tax.
State law requires that land subject to a public recreational use easement (which can include trails) must be assessed at its true value. This recognizes that such easements restrict what a landowner can do with the property subject to the easement. (See AS 29.45.062 and AS 34.17.100. Use the Alaska Basis system to find Alaska Statutes.
However, the land or trail in question must have a legal easement. Granting an easement to the state is free and fairly easily. Download the two-page “Public Recreation Easement” form under the “Land Forms” tab on the DNR Forms page. Granting the easement will also give the landowner tort and liability immunity (AS 34.17.055).
If you think you may qualify for a property tax reduction due to this law, contact your local government’s Assessing Department.
Note from the Fairbanks Borough assessor’s office:
The Assessor’s office is required to value the property based on its full value in the market place. Virtually all parcels are impacted by easements, typically for utilities and roads. To the extent that a trail easement is placed in a way that affects the enjoyment of the property it can cause a negative affect. If the easement is within existing easements and the use by the public does not significantly affect the highest and best use of the property, it may be found to have a limited affect. Please consult with the Assessors office if you have questions regarding how your proposed easement could affect your assessed value.
Comprehensive Trail Plan Helps Preserve Trails
If you’ve got a trail you like and you’re not sure if it’s protected for future use by the public, check to see if it’s included in the Fairbanks borough’s Comprehensive Recreational Trail Plan. The plan was first adopted more than 20 years ago and trails are added to it regularly. If your favorite trail is not included in the plan then you should strongly consider getting it added. The plan is one of the best ways to protect a trail from being lost to development. To find out more about the plan and how to get a trail added contact Borough Trails Coordinator Tom Hancock (459-7401).
Another way to find out about the trails plan is to attend a borough Trails Advisory Commission meeting or contact one of the members (see info below).
Boro Trails Advisory Commission Meets Monthly
The Fairbanks borough’s Trails Advisory Commission (TAC) meets the second Tuesday of each month at Pioneer Park, at 6 p.m. unless otherwise announced. For further information, contact the Parks and Recreation Dept. at 459-1070 or by email.
The commission advises the borough government on matters relating to trails within the borough, especially relating to the Comprehensive Recreational Trail Plan. For more information on the TAC see the borough’s Boards/Commissions page.