2013-02-21 / Front Page

Conservation Districts Targeted In PA Budget Cuts

Area residents asked to write to state legislators
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

NEWS EDITOR

Conservation districts across the commonwealth, including here in Fulton County, will face a funding reduction if the proposed 2013-14 state fiscal budget is adopted as proposed earlier this month by Gov. Tom Corbett.

As part of his announcement to members of the legislature, Gov. Corbett said his tentative numbers include an elimination or “100 percent decrease in line item funding” to the state’s 66 conservation districts through the departments of Agriculture and Environmental Protection.

According to Fulton County Conservation District Manager Seleen Shives, the news came as a “shock” to her and fellow Conservation District employees. Shives told the “News” she had suspected a possible reduction in funding but certainly not a total elimination.

Shives indicated she is not aware of the reasoning behind the proposed reduction that would result in the district losing $65,000 for personnel costs. She added that maybe the belief exists that there is no value placed on conservation districts’ services or that the money could be coming from another source, such as Marcellus shale.

She did indicate, however, that new Marcellus shale impact funding was never intended to be a replacement for line item money. In fact, it was the receipt of Marcellus shale funding that was going to make up for money lost back in 2008.

At that time, the county Conservation District saw a decline of 23 percent in state funding allotments as well as a 50 percent reduction on a county level. As a result of those significant losses, hours were greatly reduced for the district’s recycling coordinator and administrative assistant.

In response to Corbett’s plan, the Conservation District has already penned letters to Sen. John Eichelberger and Rep. Dick Hess in hopes state legislators will take up arms for the district, which provides an array of services to residents and area farmers. In particular, a conservation district is responsible for supporting the state’s top industry – agriculture; providing technical assistance for streambank stabilization, soil erosion and water quality; providing environmental education opportunities; completing stormwater management projects; and helping create nutrient management plans for farmers.

While district officials are hopeful state legislators will understand their problem spelled forth in their own personal letters, Shives is calling upon local farmers and residents to come to the district’s aid as well.

“Most importantly, what can Fulton County citizens do?” asked Shives. “They can contact Rep. Hess and Sen. Eichelberger and ask them to support funding conservation districts at the $4.2 million in the combined Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Agriculture line items.”

“If the people of Fulton County value the Conservation District and the program and services that we provide locally, it is much more effective for them to make these legislative contacts. Their outreach will make a difference,” she added. Shives urges letter writers to share their own personal experiences and stories about the Conservation District as part of their pleas to local legislators.

As previously indicated, the Conservation District has not been a stranger to budget cuts or even funding restoration in the past. However, with the emergence of the new impact fees for Marcellus shale, the outcome may be much different than in the past, Shives stated.

She said 91 percent of their current operating budget comes from state funds. Looking at the district’s expenditures, 81 percent of funds are spent on projects. A remaining 14 percent is earmarked for payroll.

“We run a pretty tight budget,” the manager said. “There is no where else to cut. We’ve cut where we can.”

Residents can contact Sen. Eichelberger at his primary office located at 309 Allegheny Street, Hollidaysburg, PA 16648. He can also be contacted by telephone or e-mail at 814-695-8386 and jeichelberger@ pasen.gov. Rep. Hess can be reached at his district office at 133A South Richard Street, Bedford, PA 15522 or by phone and email at 814-623-9097 and dhess@pahousegop.com.

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