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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa state park rangers who had been told they have to move out of state-owned housing in the parks by Nov. 30 would get an eviction extension to at least 2024 under a budget approved Wednesday by the Iowa House.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources told rangers in November they had a year to move out of houses in 26 state parks, citing as a primary factor the nearly $1 million cost of repairing the houses, some of which were built in the 1930s.
The Agriculture and Natural Resources budget approved Wednesday is intended to give park staff longer to find suitable housing outside state parks. It gives them until “at least July 1, 2024” to remain in the state-owned housing.
Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, offered an amendment to continue to provide that housing beyond 2024.
The bottom line, Isenhart said, is that if Iowa DNR personnel are not readily available in the parks, their emergency response and law enforcement responsibilities would fall on the shoulders of city and county law enforcement, creating an unfunded state mandate.
Johnson County Sheriff Brad Kunkel told The Gazette in February moving the park ranger out of Lake Macbride State Park, near Solon, will mean his deputies will more often be the first responders to emergencies at the busy park.
“With a campground full of campers and swimmers and everything else, it’s a nice feeling knowing you have a law enforcement officer on site if anything happens,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll see an increase in calls out there without having a ranger out there 24/7.”
The Iowa DNR says moving rangers and other staff out of parks won’t affect park safety.
“Staff will continue to work their normal hours and be available for emergency response in the same manner as in parks that do not have staff who live on-site,” spokeswoman Tammie Krausman said last month. “Staff and district supervisors set work hours in shifts that best cover the management of the park, regardless of where the staff reside.”
Rep. Norlin Mommsen, R-Dewitt, said Wednesday he was “struck by that unfairness” of some rangers living rent-free while others who do not get state-owned housing do not get paid more.
Also, after visiting several parks, Mommsen said his wife wouldn't live in a majority of those houses.
Isenhart’s amendment addressed that by requiring the state to use $1 million of the REAP allocation for repair and maintenance of the housing to make it livable. His amendment was rejected 38-58.
The overall budget bill, House File 2560 would appropriate $54.1 million from the general fund, an increase of $5.25 million, $42 million from the Environment First Fund and $12 million for Resource Enhancement and Protection. It was approved 61-35.
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