A fisherman rows his boat in the North Shore Marina on March 5, 2022 at Lake Pueblo State Park. (Mike Sweeney/Exclusive for The Colorado Sun)
The launch of the parks card underpinning CPW’s new financial model has been vexed by challenges
The launch of the Keep Colorado Wild Pass is not going smoothly as planned.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife hopes state lawmakers will give the agency $2.2 million in cash to cover unexpected costs in the agency’s campaign to influence vehicle owners not to opt out of the $29 surcharge with their annual registration.
The Joint Budget Committee, the legislative body that formulates the state budget, initially denied the request and asked the agency to move forward to discuss a $2.2 million request, nearly three times what CPW initially projected it would need to launch the card in 2021 and 2022. The agency told lawmakers last year that it would absorb these publishing costs into its current appropriations, but now it needs help.
As the agency attempted to reach every driver in Colorado and communicate with the county clerks who collect fees, the agency spent more than expected. The Keep Colorado Pass is launched as part of every vehicle registration on January 3 as an automatic payment unless owners specifically opt out and exclude $29 from their registration payment.
Lawmakers adopted legislation in 2021 that allowed the CPW to include discounted park permits with all vehicle registrations as a way to increase funding for state parks, search and rescue, and avalanche forecasting.
Last fall Universal Vegan Grain Partners sent postcards to every home in the state, sharing information about the $29 Parks Pass. The agency now says it needs better customer service to handle refunds without overburdening county clerks. It had hoped to access Colorado vehicle owners’ email addresses through the Department of Revenue, but that inexpensive option was scrapped due to data privacy concerns.
The agency has been able to cover the cost of the offering so far. But if the campaign goes ahead as planned, additional challenges could force operational cuts, CPW chief financial officer Justin Rutter told JBC on Wednesday.
The challenge was making sure vehicle owners knew they could opt out of the surcharge by deducting the $29 fee from their annual vehicle registration tax.
“We need to get that message across and … we got out of the echo chamber and really felt like we had to do it right with the intent of the legislation,” Rutter told the committee.
CPW is betting big on the Keep Colorado Wild Pass. Park admission tickets and day passes account for about a third of the agency’s annual gardening revenue.
The Keep Colorado Wild Pass, which replaces an annual $80 pass, is expected to provide more than half of state parks’ revenue. The goal is that more $29 buyers will generate additional revenue for the agency to increase investment in Colorado State Parks and support increased park traffic. The trail is a cornerstone of the agency’s efforts to diversify revenues beyond fishing licenses.
In the first week of January, 28% of drivers chose to pay for the card. In the second week, that percentage increased to 33%. The agency hopes that at least somewhere between 20% and 30% of vehicle owners won’t opt out and pay the extra $29 for a pass that’s included in their annual registration payment.
CPW needs Keep Colorado Wild to generate $32.5 million for state parks, $2.5 million for Colorado search and rescue teams and $1 million for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. The agency raised $24.4 million from $80 per year for park permits and daily admission fees in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, down from $26.7 million a year earlier.
“It’s early but…we’re on the right track,” CPW acting director Heather Duggan told the Wildlife Commission last week in a briefing that didn’t include details about the supplemental funding request.
An initial public offering is very important for CPW. Once a vehicle owner opts out of the additional $29 pass, the fee will not be included in future registrations for that vehicle.
“If we launch it well in the first year, it will have a much higher return,” said Lauren Larson, director of the governor’s office of planning and budget, as she submitted the supplemental funding request to the Joint Budget Committee on Wednesday. “What other states have seen is first-year enrollment It really is the foundation of the program.”
The Joint Budget Committee unanimously approved CPW’s request for additional funds, though not without some reprimands.
“I don’t appreciate administrations just thinking they could override authority to approve spending. This just shouldn’t happen and I don’t appreciate it at all,” said Senator Barbara Kirkmaier, R-Brighton, who said the agency should notify lawmakers of the extra spending last year. “.
State Sen. Jeff Bridges, a Greenwood Village Democrat, asked CPW for details on the agency’s 18 current communications staff.
said Bridges, who described 18 telecoms workers as “an insanely large number.”
The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan, reader-supported news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.