Running it like a business

Government is doing its best to keep parks afloat with Howard Prairie profits

Folks who are upset at Jackson County for taking over operation of Howard Prairie resort should be happy the county is trying yet another way to keep providing services without raising their taxes.

First, a few facts about the "takeover":

Jackson County owns the resort. The "private" operators have been people who contracted with the county to run the resort, earning a living for themselves and paying the county a percentage.

That worked for many years — 47 years under the same operator. That concessionaire, Jim Johnston, sold his contract in 2007, but the couple who bought it were unable to keep up with the required payments and the county terminated the contract.

Now, the county Parks Department will operate the campground and marina, and contract with the Mount Ashland Association to run the restaurant and store.

Jackson County parks operated for years as a public service provided by government, with camping and other fees covering some but not all of the costs. The county's general fund made up the difference.

As the county's fiscal health deteriorated with the contraction of the timber industry and the resulting drop in federal timber payments, many county services were cut back or ordered to become self-sufficient. The Parks Department got that edict four years ago.

That meant that whatever revenues the department collected had to be spread among all county parks, whether those individual locations paid for themselves or not.

Howard Prairie, a popular destination for camping and fishing for many Rogue Valley residents and visitors, offers the county the chance to make a healthy profit and use the proceeds to help keep all 18 county parks operating for everyone's benefit. The alternative is to close money-losing facilities such as the Takelma boat ramp on the Rogue River — or ask voters to pay more in property taxes to support services the county traditionally provided.

If the county had looked for another concessionaire to run the entire resort, Howard Prairie would have gone along as it always has — earning the county a little money, but not enough to support other county parks.

Johnston says visitors to Howard Prairie will lose the family atmosphere and the "personality" it was known for when he ran the resort.

He might be right. But unless Jackson County residents agree to pay more in taxes, or timber payments somehow resume, keeping that family atmosphere would mean sacrificing some of the rest of the county's network of parks.

County residents should take Roads and Parks Director John Vial at his word and give the county a chance to show what it can do with Howard Prairie. And they should keep in mind that this is what it looks like when government operates like a business.

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