What we can do to help better fund grooming and safety programs

by • November 4, 2014 • HighlightsComments (0)111

BY KEVIN HITE
In parts 1 and 2 of our Point of Sale series, we have covered beginnings of the SnowTRAC program and traced some of its history since 1997. We listed earlier challenges and attempted to track and document the progress of this program throughout the legislative and administrative processes that culminated in the program that we have today.
Many challenges have been a part of this process, and they continue to affect the SnowTRAC program today.
There were formal meetings and informal discussions with literally hundreds of conversations that occurred throughout Alaska concerning what to do with this program and which proposal, or combinations of proposals would be most effective for the snowmobile community as a whole. Different parts of the state have different priorities that each fought to include. Conversations with legislators, governor’s staff and other concerned parties have had very limited success in moving the DNR process in any of the directions we want, so it was thought that it was time for the organized snowmobile community to propose and begin the driving process to build a sustainable project that would have the greatest support and give us the best chance for a successful outcome.
Below is the outline of what we feel snowmobilers expect and will be willing to work toward to build a good snowmobile program in Alaska.
• Move the SnowTRAC Advisory Board away from DNR. Two options have been explored and merit mention.
• Make the SnowTRAC Board a Governor’s Board under the Governor’s Division of Boards and Commissions. This gives the advisory board more authority to administer the grants according to SOPs that are given short shrift under current DNR philosophy. The legislative allocation of registration funds would flow through this Governor’s board and be subject to the standards of other Boards serving as Governor’s boards.
• Move the SnowTRAC Advisory Board completely away from DNR and recreate the organization as a nongovernmental organization that operates under the authority of the organized snowmobile groups in the state. The appropriation of funds from the general fund would be handled by this group rather than under the administration of DNR. The director of DNR has publicly stated that he has no problem turning over this program to a nongovernmental organization for administration and execution.
• Organize the new SnowTRAC board on the lines of a regional representative board. Initial program organization should draw representatives from the most active snowmobile clubs in each region as well as an Alaska business representative. The New SnowTRAC board would need to meet and work out the program guidelines and processes, including the grant process and Standard Operation Procedures. The initial thought process is that the first edition of the new SnowTRAC board would be made up of the following representatives.

Winter Trails Coordinator
Utilizing the 12.5 percent administration fee, the board will select/hire a Winter Trails Coordinator.
The WTC (or whatever the SnowTRAC board names the position) is needed to coordinate all snow trail programs in the state.
This person will be seconded to the SnowTRAC board and will be tasked with actively seeking coordinated funding to expand statewide trail programs.
The WTC will coordinate the Statewide Safety Program. More on this below:
• He/she will be tasked with preparing and distributing of program reports to include performance and evaluation of grants and pool funds. These reports will be submitted to the SnowTRAC board for evaluation of continued funding.
• Other assignments as required.

Registration Fees
Once the new SnowTRAC Board has a year under their belts to work out the SOPs and evaluation tools needed for program process, they will request a raise in the annual registration fees from $5 per year to $10 per year. This will obviously be tied into the Legislature allocating the new amount from the general fund.
Included in this registration process would be all On-Snow Vehicles. Any ORV or ATV using a state funded trail would be required to register.
Again, after a year’s performance history, the SnowTRAC board and WTC would begin to seek matching state funding to augment the program.

Alaska Statewide Snowmobile Safety Program
When the funding mechanism goes from the current funding levels to the secondary level mentioned in 4a, then an automatic trigger would kick in to fund a statewide snowmobile safety program at approximately 20 percent of the funding mechanism. At the proposed $10 per year, that would approach $100,000 per year.
The Statewide Snowmobile Safety program would be one that can be taught by local organizations, i.e. community schools, Public Safety Officers, etc.
The program would be customizable to account for regional requirements. That could be one route for rural participants who use snowmobile as primary transportation and another route for recreational/backcountry participants.
The program could possibly be patterned after the Alaska Boating Safety program or the Alaska Hunter Education program.
The intent would be to go out to bid to organizations that would design and deliver the type of program that can be replicated without specific organizational support. Basically SnowTRAC would initially purchase the program and then continue support and distribution of the safety program statewide.

Well, there you have it. A first stab at creating an Alaska Snowmobile Advisory Council that would be responsive to snowmobilers and responsible for the creation of a program that is able to grow and meet the ever expanding requirements of Alaskan snowmobilers. The new SnowTRAC board would be able to set a direction for this program that reflects the aggressive nature of snowmobilers in Alaska. Stabilization of the program would be a tremendous benefit. No more changing DNR staff season to season, no more uncertainty that the program will careen from point to point depending on outside pressures from nonsnowmobile interests.
The New SnowTRAC board would need to get together and solidify these draft recommendations. Fortunately the existing SnowTRAC SOPs are close enough to modify without reinventing the wheel. Much of the footwork is in place, but obviously not being utilized. These organizational procedures should be in place prior to legislative approval of this change.
The next step is up to you. If this type of change in our program is the direction that you want to go, then you need to get with your officers in your club and engage them in the progression of going to our legislators in order to make this change. We will utilize the Snow Rider to advocate for the changes that we feel need to be made. Utilize your organizational voice to begin this process in order for us to be in front of the Legislature this next season to make these changes. Time to make this happen.

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