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Sportsmen could face largest fee increase in history for licenses

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POSTED: March 9, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Atlanta — Boaters, hunters and fishermen are about to face the largest fee increase in history unless the General Assembly provides funding to implement a new license sales system, according to Glenn Dowling, executive vice president of the Georgia Wildlife Federation, the largest statewide sportsman’s and conservation organization.
In addition, a contract for a new, privately managed Internet and telephone-based system will mean that many local sporting goods stores and bait and tackle shops may no longer be able to sell licenses. Estimates indicate as many as 56 counties may not have a license dealer available to local sportsmen and women. This will make it less convenient for many hunters and anglers to get the licenses they need, and likely will affect the profits of small businesses that depend on license buyers.
A coalition of 31 sportsmen’s organizations and conservation organizations, spearheaded by the Georgia Wildlife Federation, is appealing to the Georgia General Assembly for wildlife conservation funding to prevent this “tax” increase on Georgia’s hunters, anglers and boaters. In a recent letter sent to all members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the coalition asked for sufficient funding to upgrade to the state’s current outmoded hunting and fishing licensing sales system and boat registration process — along with funds to support other wildlife programs within the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Their letter points out that sportsmen’s license fees have provided millions of dollars to pay off state bonds issued in 1988 and 1989 that bought over 60,000 acres of wildlife management area lands. Those bonds have been paid off and this money still flows to the state treasury. The 31 groups in this conservation coalition believes it is only fair that these monies be used to offset the impacts of the license system changes and to fund other needs of the Wildlife Resources Division.
Georgia has 971,000 fishermen, 344,000 hunters, 350,000 boaters and 1,100 private license dealers who will be affected by changes in the state licensing process. License and boat registration fees generate about $21 million in state revenue each year.
The current systems for selling hunting and fishing licenses and boat registrations are based on outdated technology. The DNR has not been able to convince the Administration or General Assembly to provide any funds to replace this old system.
Now, the state plans to outsource the upgrade to a private business partnership involving Central Bank, Automated Licensing Systems and Infospherix - all based outside Georgia. These companies will collect approximately $3.3 million per year in fees to equip and operate the new licensing and boat registration systems which are expected to be in place by late in 2008. It currently costs DNR about $900,000 to operate the state owned systems.
According to the Wildlife Resources Division, a new system will provide much better management information to the agency, and will prevent license sales to those whose hunting privileges have been revoked.
However, the state contract with these private companies calls for them to be paid issuance fees of $2.75 for each license transaction over the Internet, and $4 per license transaction conducted by telephone. That fee will be in addition to the current cost of hunting or fishing licenses. Thus, a $9.00 state fishing license will cost $11.75 to $13 in the future, and a $10 hunting license will cost at least $12.75 to $14. Boaters will be hit even harder because the cost for registering a small boat will rise from $15 to at least $23 up to $25. The total of all transaction fees paid by hunters, anglers and boaters is projected to fund the private contractor portion of $3.3 million.more than three times the cost of the current state owned system.
Unless the General Assembly provides part or all of this money in the FY 2009 state budget, all of the additional cost to upgrade the licensing processes will be borne by Georgia hunters, anglers and boaters. Importantly, no new monies will come to the state or to WRD for improving conservation programs, or for implementing a state-owned licensing system at a lower cost.
“Sportsmen don’t mind paying reasonable licensing fees, but we expect them to be used to benefit wildlife conservation and boating programs, not to fund an expensive, private license system that the state will never own,” Dowling said.
He urged members of conservation groups and other hunters, anglers and boaters all over the state to contact their state senators and representatives to support additional funding for wildlife programs. The state’s 1,100 current hunting and fishing license dealers, especially in small towns and rural counties across the state, are also advised to investigate the impact of the new licensing system on their current business profits and customers.
 

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