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YELLOWSTONE FACING BUDGET SHORTFALL

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Yellowstone National Park will face a $75,000 budget shortfall in 1997 unless it is allowed to increase entry fees under an experimental fee system, according to a park official.

Marv Jensen, the park's assistant superintendent, said even though the park's budget for 1997 will increase by $700,000 over 1996 figures, the combination of a 3 percent raise for park employees and cuts in special project funding will result in a net decline of $75,000.The cuts could mean the park, which was forced to close one campground this year because of funding shortages, could face similar cutbacks this year, Jensen said.

"We're just seeing what amounts to a flat-line budget situation, barring what happens with the entrance fee situation," he said. "That being the case, we're still going to be struggling and don't know exactly where we'll make the adjustments."

The park's budget for 1997 was set at $20.4 million.

Congress has authorized Yellowstone's participation in an experimental entry fee system under which some national parks will be allowed to keep 80 percent of the money they raise through the fees over what they raised in previous years.

Currently, parks are allowed to keep only 15 percent of their entry fee income, with the rest going to the U.S. Treasury and being divided among other facilities.

Yellowstone officials have proposed boosting park entry fees from $10 per car to $20 or $25, a move expected to raise up to $5 million a year for the park.

Jensen said the U.S. Interior Department will make the final decision on what entry fee increases will be approved. He added the park's plans will have to await a final decision on the issue.