Following is a letter sent by the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds to Gov. Rick Scott expressing the trade group’s position on the development of privately run campgrounds in state parks.
Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida – The Capitol
400 S. Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
Re: Proposed Privatized Camping Facilities at 56 State Parks
Dear Governor Scott,
We applaud and support your efforts toward fiscal responsibility. Granted, change is needed to bring government spending and bureaucracy under control. However, as a tourism-related Association that represents hundreds of small business owners throughout the state, we do have some very significant and justified concerns regarding the proposal recently approved by the DEP and the Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC) to add up to 56 privatized camping facilities in State Parks.
Quite simply, the proposed initiative will substantially hurt the private campground sector by taking customers away from private RV parks and campgrounds. State parks have consistently had lower camping rates than privately owned campgrounds – because they can. They can operate at a loss and they don’t have deal with the same fees, expenses, taxes, or in some cases the same regulatory scrutiny that is required of private RV parks and campgrounds. Just as importantly, the State Parks are able to offer larger campsites with modern camping facilities on the best and most pristine lands in Florida. Therefore it has always been a struggle, and a loosing battle, for private campgrounds to compete. Even under this “privatized” proposal, the competition will still be grossly unfair for many of the same reasons mentioned above.
According to the Division of Recreation and Parks they hope this privatization effort of camping facilities will help make the parks more self-sufficient, expand recreational opportunities, stimulate employment opportunities, and help the local economies. We understand, but don’t fully agree, with this argument. However, we do know for a fact that the unintended consequences of these actions will far surpass any benefits to the State, local businesses or citizens of Florida. Federal and state governments have no right to enter the private business world. When government steps into the business arena, private businesses are put in an unfair situation, private enterprise suffers, Florida suffers and the fundamental rights of citizens are violated. The expansion of camping facilities in State Parks (privatized or not) has been done in other States, and it has all but killed the private camping industry.
Furthermore, the proposed additional camping sites are NOT needed. The private sector has more than enough camping and RV sites to meet the demand of campers wishing to visit Florida and Florida’s state parks. There are many private campgrounds located near state parks that are already struggling, and the demand and interest in camping at private and public parks has been stagnant or declining in the past few years. Adding more State Park Campgrounds (privatized or not) will only further hurt the private sector and will force private campgrounds to close down. No matter how you look at it, this proposal which provides for camping facilities on prime state land, creates an unfair environment where private campgrounds throughout Florida will be on the loosing end.
While we are not privy to any of the income/expense numbers being discussed, we are skeptical that private enterprises will see the value in investing the large amount of money it would take to develop camping facilities on land that they will not own. The costs and risks will be very high, and the rates charged will have to be in-line with the private sector (which we hope) or much higher to make it profitable for the operator. With this reality in mind, it is easy to foresee a future where a few failed privatization attempts could result in the State owning and operating these facilities, possibly at a loss, and at the cost of Florida’s taxpayers.
Another real issue of concern is the fact that this proposal and plan for camping facilities on State Land was seemingly put into place and approved by the Acquisition and Restoration Council without proper advanced notice to the public or the legislature. The first and only “public meetings” on this proposal (for four of the fifty six proposed parks) is scheduled for July 5th, which is less then a week away, and roughly three weeks after the initial plan to allow for the privatization was approved.
Furthermore, our State Parks are environmental treasures that need and deserve to be protected. Offering Modern-Style RV camping facilities with paved RV sites, water and sewer hook-ups and all the amenities offered by commercial RV Resorts is not needed, nor is it in the best interest of the pristine Florida State Park lands.
Governor Scott, as a former business person yourself, we hope you can understand some of our reasonable and logical concerns. The unfair competition issue alone, not to mention environmental concerns, is reason enough for the proposal to be stopped. The people of Florida and all the entities involved need to have the opportunity to properly understand all of the potential harmful consequences created by having modern RV camping facilities (privatized or not) on State Park land . We appreciate any and all guidance and direction in this matter.
Bobby Cornwell, President
Florida Association of RV Parks and Campground