I have been asked by OMTA President Bill Kaeppner to put together a synopses of our current situation, as well as a history of the SRV Fund and OHV Recreation issues in Ohio. This is intended to be a source of information to be passed around to our elected officials so that we can better educate them on our issues. There is no way to do this accurately and short, so I dearly hope anyone reading this will take the time to read all of it.
Two weeks ago OMTA and all Ohio riders suffered a surprising defeat when our language to restore the SRV Fund oversight board, SC3570, was pulled from the state budget bill during conference committee. So many of us worked so hard on this, and to accomplish something very simple, that the off road community is simply shocked that there was sufficient opposition to SC3570 to kill it. The simple clear goal was to reinstate the board that formerly provided a way for the riders who pay into the fund to have oversight. There was no fee increase, no great cost to make this happen, only a volunteer board made up of riders who’s money is in the fund. Let me be clear on that, the ONLY money in the SRV Fund is from fees paid by us, the riders, not a single dime of taxes.
One more factor that made this even more surprising is that we had been told by ODNR legislative staff that if an amendment were offered that dealt exclusively with the SRV Board that ODNR would not oppose it. We are so used to working with the fact that our main opposition often comes from the agency we need to be working with, that when we had word that they would not oppose the amendment we were totally blindsided by opposition from somewhere else.

What we now know is that the reason SC3570 was pulled is because the Governor’s office asked the conference committee to pull it. The reasoning was that the Governor’s Office has a position that government shout not be expanded and allowed to get bigger, so they were opposed to the creation of another board. Before anyone get’s too riled up, I will say that I want my government taking that position. However, in this case a lack of knowledge about the history of the board and the SRV Fund led to a board being killed who’s purpose was the goal of keeping government in check. The end result being that enforcing the “letter” of that non-expansion position has actually worked against the “spirit” of that position. With the benefit of hindsight those of us working on this truly believe that if the folks in the governor’s office who looked at SC3570 had been better informed on the history of this issue this would not have happened.

What’s done is done though, and pointing fingers will not help us make progress on the issue. What we can do is learn from what has happened this go ’round and do better next time. Clearly the biggest lesson we can learn from this is to broaden our outreach to keep more interested parties informed, and make sure that we do not find ourselves in another situation where we are being opposed because our issue is not fully understood by the person opposing us.

So what is it that the people who made this decision did not know? In one word, history. The history of how we got here, the issues surrounding the SRV Fund and off road recreation, and the history of how these issues have (quite frankly) been pushed aside by one administration after another at ODNR.

Where do I start? Well, if this is truly meant to be as informative as possible I am going to assume that at least some of the people  who eventually receive this will know nothing at all about the SRV Fund, so that is where I will start.

The SRV Fund, or State Recreational Vehicle Fund was originally conceived back in the 1980’s when it became apparent that ATV, Dirt Bike, and Snowmobile recreation was going to be ever increasing in popularity. With so many people and families buying these machines it was obvious to officials in many states that there were both problems and opportunities associated with them. Ohio and many other states began working on systems to manage public off road recreation. Basically, with more of the public buying the machines, there was a clear need for places to ride. So like many other states Ohio created a registration process, and the fees associated with that registration go into a fund to pay for public trails. Now, not every state calls it a registration as we do in Ohio, but the mechanics of the systems are very similar. You purchase an Ohio APV registration and a portion of that money goes into the State Recreational Vehicle Fund.

3 of our neighbor states now manage extensive public trail systems with such funds. Michigan has over a thousand miles of both ATV/dirt bike and snowmobile trails. Some of the trails are shared by both user groups, and some are exclusive to one or the other. West Virginia does not get enough snow for snowmobile, but the Hatfield & McCoy trails are open to ATV and dirt bike riders year round, and they are quickly approaching the long term goal of 2000 miles of trail. While most states that have a fund containing user fee money also have a grant program to fund local trails in local parks or on city and county owned land, a  less common practice that Pennsylvania allows is for private for profit pay to ride parks to receive grants as well. The result is a huge diverse choice of places to go ride all across the state. The examples go well beyond our neighboring states, across the nation the proven formula for providing public trails is a registration or permit with an associated fee to fund a grant program, and a rider oversight board.

 While our neighboring states have similar rider populations and similar registrations and trail funds to Ohio, what is not similar is the amount of trail on the ground. Here in Ohio we have less than 50 miles of trail managed by ODNR state wide, and an additional 120 managed by Wayne National Forest. That’s right, in a state with a huge rider population we have less than 200 miles of public trail state wide. how many riders are in Ohio? Well, there are nearly 1 million titled ATV and Dirt Bikes in Ohio. Snowmobiles do not have titles in Ohio, so numbers are harder to track. If we KNOW we have that many titled bikes and quads in the state, and very little trail, it begs the question: where are Ohio riders riding? Simple, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia.
If this sounds an awful lot like the old debate about casinos, you are right. Every weekend, year round, Ohio ATV, dirt bike, and snowmobile owners take their machines and money to surrounding states. There are numerous economic impact studies that we have talked about for years. For example a 2010 study in Michigan (available from Michigan DNR) estimates $16.8 million spent in Michigan by riders coming from out of state in one year. With no place to ride in Ohio it is easy to see that a significant portion of that money is coming from Ohio.
  So why is it that Ohio is so lacking in places to ride, despite our huge population of riders? To answer that we must look at the specific history of the SRV fund an our registration process. The first fault was that our registration fee was originally so low that the SRV Fund never generated very much money. For many years the fee was $8.50 for a 3 year registration, and are sold through local BMV Deputy Registrars. After the registrars fee and the portion for the BMV to print the sticker was taken out we were left with $3.75 (or $1.25 per year) going to the SRV Fund, which for many years generated about $80,000 per year. The off road community is not a bunch of free loaders, and we all knew the reality was that we needed the SRV Fund to be solvent with substantial funds to get more trail in Ohio. Beginning in 2007 OMTA in cooperation with the Ohio State Snowmobile Association began working to increase the fee for the registration. We succeeded and our fee increase was included in HB2 in 2009, raising our fee to $34.75 for 3 years, with 100% of the increase going to the SRV Fund. With the SRV Fund now holding about $2 million of the riders money, we finally have the first critical component to getting trail in Ohio.
 So what about rider oversight of the fund? When our amendment was included in HB2 back in 2009 there was an oversight board created, the SRV Fund Advisory Board. Unbeknownst to us a sunset clause was attached in conference committee which set the board to expire in 2 years. Under the previous director of ODNR the process for getting the board up and running was dragged out for so long that by the time the board had it’s 2nd meeting the authorization had already expired. This was not discovered until later, and for over 2 years now we have been working to restore the board to oversee our fund.
 The discovery that the board had expired came while researching sections of the ORC for the last critical mechanism to put the SRV Fund to use. At the last meeting of the SRV Board we discussed working on legislation to create a grant system for accessing the SRV Fund. Since the SRV Fund was first created there has been no mechanism to use the fund for any project other than on ODNR land. The goal of creating a grant system that is defined in Ohio law is to bring us in line with all the other states that have successful trail programs. At that last meeting of the board in early 2011 upper level ODNR staff agreed that this was something that could be worked on together. Then it came to light that the board’s authorization had expired, and we received a commitment from ODNR that we would work together on legislation to both restore the board and create a grant system.
However those commitments from ODNR have led no where, due to several factors. First, 2012 was a very contentious election year, making it very challenging to make progress. Second, ODNR has had 2 directors and 1 interim director since the administration changed in 2010. There has been a lot of shuffling of personnel and it seems every time we start a conversation about these issues we are eventually told we are no longer talking to the correct people. Just a few weeks ago we met with the ODNR Deputy Director Andy Ware, Chief Of Forestry Bob Boyles, and 2 staff from ODNR’s legislative office at the Ohio State House. The meeting was called by Senator Frank LaRose, who was sponsoring an amendment that we hoped woud create the grant system, or at least restore the board.  Although we have been talking about these issues consistently for several years we were surprised to learn that only the lower level staff person from ODNR had prior knowledge because he had been in a meeting at Senator Balderson’s office in May of 2012 where these same issues were discussed with Glen Cobb, who was there as the representative of ODNR. Since late 2012 all conversations about these issues had gone through ODNR’s office of Real Estate and Land Management. At the meeting a few weeks ago it was all new people. It is very hard to hit the goal post when it keeps moving.

Since that meeting the amendment was of course killed in Conference committee. We have also since sent an email to Brittney Colvin from ODNR’s legislative office who attended the last meeting asking about getting the process moving, and she politely informed me that all discussions on these issues will need to go through Paul Baldridge, head of Real Estate and Land Management. Another email was sent to Mr. Baldridge on June 20th, and to date there has been no response. I sent a reminder today, July 8th, 2013.

We have around 17 months left in this general assembly of the Ohio legislature. I and others who represent the off road community will be working hard to see these goals met by the end of 2014, hopefully sooner. I hope this history of the issues helps a few people to better understand the situation. In 2 years the SRV Fund could be funding trail projects at the local level, helping to not ony provide places to ride; but also boosting local economies and helping provide new jobs. Let’s get there.

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