TPWD Proposes Increasing Hunting, Fishing, Boat Fees

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Faced with increasing demand for services and increasing costs, the Finance Committee of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission has authorized publishing in the Texas Register a proposal to increase selected hunting and fishing licenses and boat registration and titling fees by approximately 20 percent.

TPWD will schedule a series of public meetings for April and May and take public comments by phone, mail and e-mail before the Commission considers a final vote about the fee proposal at its May 29 meeting. If approved, new hunting and fishing fees would take effect when new season licenses go on sale this fall. Boat fees could change sooner, depending on Commission action.

"We haven't raised license and boat fees since 1996," said Katharine Armstrong, TPWD Commission chairman. "In the past two years, we've worked hard to set our financial house in order and looked for all the cost-savings we can find. I think we've done a good job on that front and believe this fee proposal is warranted and reasonable.

In recent years we've added game wardens in the field and upgraded facilities statewide, among other improvements. Our customers get an excellent value for the licenses and fees they pay. We need the support of our conservation constituents, the hunters, anglers and boaters of Texas, and we'll be working to explain to them the reasons for this proposal."

The Commission considered a fee increase in 2001, but decided to focus first on reducing costs and honing financial practices instead. For several years, TPWD has been able to avoid increasing fees by spending down fund balances left over at the end of each fiscal year. Those fund balances are now gone.

"In legislative committee meetings this year, we briefed state leaders on the possibility of a fee increase," said Robert L. Cook, TPWD executive director. "It's no secret that state budgets are tight this year, and I don't see it getting better next year. Earlier this year, we initiated a hiring freeze, eliminated out-of-state travel and drastically reduced capital expenditures like vehicles and boats. If we're going to provide the core services people expect, additional revenue is needed."

According to the Texas Comptroller's revenue estimates, by the end of the 2004-05 fiscal biennium, TPWD will be facing a $10 million shortfall unless the agency generates additional revenue.

Meanwhile, although fees have not increased since 1996, agency costs have risen sharply in some areas. Electricity rates have gone up about 30 percent in some parts of the state. Chronic Wasting Disease testing and response has generated unanticipated costs. Additional employees in the field mean higher costs, including items with escalating costs, like boat and vehicle fuel.

The fee proposal says the popular Super Combo license, which includes all licenses and stamps needed to hunt or fish in Texas, would increase from $49 to $59. The Super Combo generated almost $17 million last year-that's about one-fourth of the 2002 gross license revenue of $69 million. Resident fishing and resident hunting licenses would each increase from $19 to $23. All told, TPWD has 162 license types.

Hunting and fishing stamps and senior and youth license types would not increase. Commercial licenses and state park fees would likewise not be affected if the current proposal goes through.

A staff analysis showed that with the proposed increases, TPWD fees would be in line with cost of living increases since 1996. For example, although the Super Combo license now costs $49, its seven-year inflation value is $58.25, about the same as the proposed increase to $59.

Boat registration and titling fees would also increase for the first time since 1996. Boat registration for vessels less than 16 feet would increase from $25 to $30. Boats from 16 to 25 feet would go from $40 to $50. Boats 26 feet to 40 feet would go from $55 to $70. Boats more than 40 feet long would go from $70 to $90. Livery (rental) boat fees would go from $15 to $30. Titles for all boats would increase from $15 to $25.

Boat fee revenue is currently dedicated for use only in Fund 9, which pays for fisheries and wildlife management and law enforcement. But TPWD's greatest need is in Fund 64 for state parks, where close to 90 employee positions have been held vacant for more than a year to save money. Proposed legislation would allow TPWD to use up to 15 percent of boat revenue in Fund 64. This would help cover costs at 26 lake-based state parks with boat ramps and other facilities.

If the fee increase proposal passes, it would bring in an additional $13.8 million in revenue for fiscal year 2004.

The proposal will be submitted to the Texas Register the week of April 8 and is expected to be published in the register April 25.

Anyone can see proposed fee and regulation changes and make comments via the Internet

Dates and locations for public meetings about fee increase proposals will also be published here. Or, the public can send comments in writing to: Executive Office, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, TX 78744 or phone toll free (800) 792-1112, enter zero for the operator and ask for the executive office.