Hampton should rethink its parks lawsuit

All of New Hampshire’s parks are valuable to the state’s citizens

I would like to express my sincere disappointment in the recent action of the leadership of the town of Hampton to sue the state and the New Hampshire parks system. We have one parks system, and all our parks are valuable to the citizens of our state. Some years some parks operate in deficits, some are profitable. However, we want a system that provides recreational opportunities for all of our citizens.

From 2006 to 2012, New Hampshire parks spent close to $5 million to repair and replace large sections of the seawall. The seawall does not protect any of our parks. It protects Hampton property, yet no other community was critical of that spending, arguing that the dollars should go to other parks. Recently, the state authorized close to $15 million for a new seashell as well as new bath houses. We didn’t increase the number of parking spaces so there were minimal revenue increases to the park system. But it certainly helped Hampton businesses as more people visited the Hampton area as a result of the improvement.

These improvements were funded at a time when many other state projects were canceled or delayed. Remember, in 2010, budgets were being cut and many state employees were losing their jobs. However, Governor Lynch, Senator Stiles, Senator D’Allesandro and Rep. Candace Bouchard and many others worked hard to get the Hampton capital funding. I remember some people arguing that there were other parks that needed improvement. I argued that we have one system and we needed to support this effort.

In the past, due to rainy weekends, there have been years when Hampton Beach parking meters did not cover all Hampton Beach expenses, so the Flume or other parks covered the expenses. The Flume is the parks’ largest revenue generator, not Hampton Beach. The Hampton Beach budget does not include capital budget expenses (over $860,000 per year) while other parks, such as Franconia and Umbagog, are required to fund capital expenses. If Hampton Beach included capital expenses, it would not cover expenses every year, so all of the taxpayers in the state are subsidizing Hampton Beach.

Most parks have an entry fee, yet most of the visitors to Hampton Beach do not use parking meters and therefore do not add revenue to the parks fund. However the visitors help the town of Hampton, businesses and landlords to generate income. What happens if we suffer a hurricane and Hampton Beach incurs terrible damage? Will the Hampton leaders ask for other parks to help fund the rebuilding?

We have one park system. If the Hampton leaders want that changed, the good citizens of Hampton may be the losers.

George Bald of Somersworth served as commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development from 1998-2004 and from 2006-2012.

Categories: Opinion