Budget ax hits Bandelier

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Area attractions > Sequestration not impacting other tourism destinations

By Arin McKenna

A scenario is unfolding at Bandelier National Monument that Superintendent Jason Lott hoped to avoid.

A five percent decrease in the park’s budget due to sequestration is cutting deep. Both the park and the campground remain open, but cutbacks to staffing and programming are likely to impact the visitor experience.

Many subject-to-furlough employees have received full furloughs. Subject-to-furlough employees are guaranteed at least six months of full-time work, with a minimum two-week furlough each year. Lott has done what he can to mitigate the impact.

“In every case we tried to minimize furloughs by using program funds and other sources,” Lott said.

The budget reductions have also affected seasonal employment, which usually swells the workforce by approximately 40 jobs, many of which are filled by locals.

Lott stressed that permanent full-time employees are not being furloughed, although a hiring freeze has left key positions such as a law enforcement ranger and a facilities manager vacant.

Staff reductions mean that the visitor center will maintain winter hours, operating from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m., restrooms will likely be cleaned once daily instead of two or three times and grounds maintenance and trail work will be reduced.

The popular Night Walks will move from Wednesday to Friday, replacing the Friday night campfire program. The Saturday night campfire program will continue.

One of Lott’s greatest concerns is cutbacks to EMT staffing.

“There will be days without EMT coverage, so we will have to rely on 911 service more,” Lott said. “The 911 service is excellent here, but the time it takes for them to travel to the park will delay getting help to people.”

Special programs such as the Fall Fiesta will continue with reduced budgets. Lott said that due to strong partnerships with local organizations, Bandelier Opera is unlikely to be affected.

However, the budget for the naturalization ceremony has been reduced by $1,000. Lott suggested that donations to the Friends of Bandelier could be earmarked for programs such as the ceremony.

Due to the cutback, the park will be unable to present Bandelier Passes to the 15 new citizens as it did last year. A $30 donation would provide one pass.

The Bandelier Conservation Corps, an employment program for local high school students, will continue with grants from the National Park Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and a $10,000 donation from Friends of Bandelier.

Friends of Bandelier (friendsofbandelier.org) also contributed $10,000 toward the hire of an aide for interpretation to offset reduced staffing.

Although staff will be stretched thin and working under challenging conditions, Lott said they would persevere.

“We’re going to carry on,” Lott said. “We’ll keep the park open and support the local economy.”

The Santa Fe National Forest, meanwhile, has not been affected by the reduction in spending increases.

Spokesman Bruce Hill told the Santa Fe New Mexican that doesn’t mean it can not happen in the near future.

The Valles Caldera should not be affected either.

The unique structure of the Valles Caldera National Preserve as a government corporation striving for self-sufficiency has often been a detriment. But that framework has become a boon during sequestration, and should shield the preserve from financial impacts.

“Since we’re a government corporation, we’re in control of our own budget,” said Communications and Marketing Manager Terry McDermott. “And the revenues we receive from the programs we provide, we’re allowed to keep and carry over to the next fiscal year.

VCNP also receives an appropriation, which may be carried over from year-to-year. Most government agencies must return unspent funds to the general fund.

“We are in control of our own employee head count and our programs. So, we can expand or contract programs as necessary,” McDermott said. “And since we’re small and more agile and more flexible, we don’t expect to be furloughing anybody.

“The economy being what it is, we work hard and we struggle like everyone else. But because of the fact that we’re a government corporation and we’re allowed to do these things, it’s going to be business as ‘unusual’ out there.”