LAW MATTERS, by Richard Jirus
June 2014: With pressure mounting to avert a transportation funding crisis this summer, 2014, the administration is considering reversing a long standing tradition on interstate tolls. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has been quoted as saying that states would be allowed to consider tolls to pay for repairs needed for infrastructure repairs. It has been expressed that traditional funding can no longer meet the need.Shorebreak Energy Developers has issued a press release stating they will provide and install solar panels in several California private RV parks and campgrounds. They will then sell the power generated back to the same parks at a discount rate of approximately 35% to 75%.A draft report scheduled to be released in May 2014, is said to indicate that California parks are being dragged down by stagnant leadership, inadequate resources and a failure to meet the needs of young Latinos. The report itself is the result of close scrutiny since the revelation in 2012 that the parks department was closing parks when they had stock piled millions of dollars. The report itself will be an ongoing process throughout 2014.A Nebraska bill providing an additional $43 million to work on a backlog of repairs and new installations for state parks is receiving favorable responses from the Nebraska legislature. Nebraska has eight state parks, 64 recreation areas and 11 state historical areas, and sees anestimated 12 million visitors annually.In Washington State, the senate has passed a bill that would allow advertising in state parks, and authorizes the state to seek assistance from and enter into agreements with private or public organizations interested in conservation and environmental maintenance of the park system. The bill gives the park commission the flexibility to partner with communities while providing a new source of much needed revenue. Also in Washington the Puyallup RV show will donate $1.00 from every discounted adult or senior ticket sold at the box office to Washington State Parks.T.R. Arnold & Associates of Elkhart,IN announced they now are authorized to approve design, inspect and certify RV units headed to Canada. The accreditation contract with the Standards Council of Canada was signed recently in Canada.State officials in Tennessee are in the early stages of determining the feasibility of private concessionaires taking over certain hospitality operations relating to Montgomery Bell State Park. This would include the Inn, restaurant and golf course. If workable, there are 11 other state parks with similar facilities.The town of Shediac in New Brunswick, Canada has approved a by-law change that would allow a new 708 site RV park. The controversy includes rezoning some areas not now included within the town borders. There fore the project would also require the Province’s approval. Other controversies of this park proposal must also be addressed.Florida RV parks faced with problems are turning to Newby Management Company to run their park. The company now has 41 parks under its umbrella, yet owns none of the properties. A Newby spoke person said it is more than cutting the grass and collecting rents. We have to keep the residents happy, our investors happy, and our team members happy. The company has a policy of responding to complaints within 24 hours, and pushes park owners to keep properties attractive.The ARC, American Recreation Coalition, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources on reauthorization of legislation allowing federal agencies to collect and retain entrance and recreation fees. ARC told congress that recreationists supported fees but were concerned about the lack of focus on improvements in recreation experiences following the enactment of the 2004 Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act.
April 2014 Last October’s government shut down has caused some unusual problems. In the state of Virginia a federal judge will be hearing arguments between private operators of campgrounds located in U.S. Forest Service areas who claim it was an arbitrary and unnecessary decision to close those areas to camping. Because those campgrounds do not require federal money to operate they should have been allowed to stay open.
Two months ago it was reported that Iowa passed a law punishing RV owners that license and pay sales taxes through a LLC corporation set up in places like Montana and North Dakota. A Nebraska legislator has just introduced a similar bill, and the states of Massachusetts and California already have similar laws on the books.
The state of Idaho started a state passport pass system last year that residents could buy for $10.00 when they register their automobiles. The idea was to provide funds for differed maintenance for many state parks. Rising costs for basics like personnel, utilities and fuel used most of the new passport funding. The Idaho governor has had to increase funding requests in his annual budget to maintain state parks.
In New Hampshire legislation has been submitted to clarify taxation on RV’s. The current laws allow taxing trailers that are permanently located on campgrounds as real property. This would include trailers “intended to remain stationary.” The new legislature will correct this oversight.
A new ordinance in Odessa, Texas prohibits anyone in the city from parking their vehicles on unpaved ground or storing their units in driveways. This has created an opportunity for land owners to provide suitable storage for RV’s, cars, or boats.
The people of Louisiana Parrish of Lafayette have received a reprieve on a new ordinance that bans the use of travel trailers as permanent homes in unincorporated areas. The legislation is considered too restrictive and will be re-worded. In Calcasieu Parrish a new re-zoning ordinance will be developed separately for RV parks. Currently mobile home parks and RV parks use the same zoning requirements.
In several areas of the country, Louisiana, and Mississippi today, housing shortages caused by industrial building booms have created the need for using RV trailers for temporary housing. Both of these states welcome the job opportunities but want to carefully manage the park requirements to avoid uncontrolled squalor.
The RVIA has successfully exempted the RV industry from a bill in New Jersey that would require all RV manufacturers to provide information so any mechanic could repair RV’s. In some cases this could include proprietary information.
And just when you think all is sacred, an opinion by Eric Hammerling, the Connecticut head of Forest and Parks Association states “all state forest lands are not in perpetual preservation.” Lands can be traded, sold or in other ways exchanged. Even if the swap is denied, the state legislature can pass a law voiding the original intent, and in fact every year some bill is introduced in Connecticut for that purpose.
I would venture an opinion to all Airstreamers who contemplate such a practice: DON'T DO IT. Two states have already passed laws to prosecute violators and several other states are considering similar laws. The financial penalties are severe.
A recent interview by a RV business reporter with Jonathan Jarvis, Service Director of the National Park Service, gave a synopsis of the sequestration effects on the park budgets. Each park, national memorial, or historical landmark is listed as a line item on the national budget. The sequestration requires a five percent reduction in costs. Each park entity must therefore reduce their operating, maintenance, service, or capital expenses by 5 %. Whatever the park superintendent must do to meet this requirement will be done by that person..
The Bipartisan Policy Center is hosting a discussion on the challenges facing the funding of America’s national parks. The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the National Park Hospitality Association (NPHA) will launch the dialog to identify non-appropriated funding strategies to support America’s treasured national parks.
The outdoor industry sees healthy public support for federal recreation programs but worry about the effects of budget cuts. They plan to lobby congress to re-authorize the law allowing fees to be collected on federal recreation lands set to expire in 2014. They also want to increase the number of international visitors by introducing an international park pass. The third part of their plan is to use federal transportation to aid recreation. Finally the coalition hopes to build alliances with the Department of Defense to investigate whether military engineers could help with deferred maintenance on public lands.
The NPS has had their hands slapped recently when they published a ban on jet skies in certain areas without the proper study of the impacts of such activity. To prevent a second mistake, the NPS is planning to spend $400,000 for a study on Jet Ski impacts. A second independent study will review the impact of a bicycle race in a Colorado National Monument.
A recent mandate by the EPA might have an impact on fuel prices. An original law passed in 2005 requires quantities of renewable ethanol to be blended with gasoline. The law was revised in 2007 and the EPA has interpreted the new law to:
1. Include diesel fuel.
2. Increase volume of renewables in gasoline from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons in 2022.
3. Determine several new categories of fuel with separate volume requirements for each.
4. The life cycle of the new fuels must have less green house gasses than the fuel it is replacing.
The Texas Senate has passed a new budget that includes a 5.5 billion dollar increase in the state parks budget and avoids park closures. This bill must still be revised in a joint conference with both houses by May 27. It is the first increase for Texas parks since 2010.
Still in Texas, house bill 2152 prevents local utilities from applying administrative fees on RV parks. Another Senate bill 280 originally proposed campgrounds to pay for policing and trash control on the San Marcos River. TACO, (Texas Association of Campground Owners) successfully lobbied against both bills. In the case of the San Marcos River, TACO pointed out that most of the campers are winter Texans and seldom bring boats to use on the river.
Tennessee Parks now offer online state park reservations. The system is still in the trial phases and is being debugged.
Iowa has had an interesting problem. A five percent fee is charged when registering an RV purchased out of state. Some tax wise owners have discovered that if they register their RV out of state as a business property, they can avoid the 5 % fee. If you own a million dollar rig that can be as much as $50,000. The new law not only collects the fee, but adds a fine equal to 75 % the total of the fee and the owner may still be subject to criminal penalties.
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