In opposition to a proposal for park privatization in Utah:
Mary Tullius, director of the Division of State Parks and Recreation, doesn’t think so. She says the state prides itself on giving Utah families affordable destinations like state parks. And if those destinations were made private, the quality would suffer.
“History has told us that whenever you privatize something people are so focused on making money that they don’t pay attention to the infrastructure or to the maintenance of the facility. What happens after five years and they’ve run something and they haven’t taken care of it and they turn back to the state? And then the state has a much bigger problem,” she said.
This is exactly backwards. As readers probably know, my business is the private operation of public parks. The number one problem we have in taking over government parks is that they are usually terribly run down. By the time the government is finally willing to turn to private companies for help (generally in the category of “last resort”) the government has typically been ignoring the capital maintenance needs of the parks for years. As I have written before, government is terrible about appropriating sufficient amounts of capital maintenance dollars. We see it in everything from parks to the Washington metro.
Nowadays, as a condition of taking over the operation of public parks, our company is generally asked to make a large up-front contribution to tackling deferred maintenance in the park. In fact, in our newest contract with the Tennessee Valley Authority, we actually have rebuilt the entire park and campground from the ground up.
I am sure there are some private operators who have let things run down, but in general this has occurred when the public authority has insisted on giving the operator a series of 1-year contracts rather than a real 10-20 year contract. Who is going to replace the roof if the contract only lasts for another 6 months. On the other hand, who is going to fail to keep things nice if he knows he is going to be there for another 15 years?
I hear this kind of rant from people within the government all the time. They seem to believe it, but it is hard to find an example where it is true. When I worked for an oil company, they planned on having to totally rebuild their retail stations every 20 years or so. What legislature plans for this kind of expenditure?