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Monday, March 16th, 2009

Merger, fee hike could bring funds to counties

Soil & water conservation districts would benefit

By Nancy Allen
A proposal to merge some divisions within the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and a separate proposal to increase fees paid at private landfills could mean more money for county soil and water conservation districts.
The Ohio Division of Soil and Water Conservation, Division of Water and Division of Recycling and Litter Prevention could merge under a proposal by Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Sean Logan.
Logan is proposing that the Division of Soil and Water Conservation and the Division of Water would be combined into a single division called the Division of Soil and Water Resources. The Division of Recycling and Litter Prevention would continue as a separate division, but with leadership and administrative assistance from the Division of Soil and Water Resources.
Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District Administrator Nikki Hawk said she received an e-mail about the merger proposal on Friday. This was the day after soil and water board supervisors met.
"A lot of my board members may not know this yet," Hawk said." I've been told it's being done as a cost-saving measure."
David Hanselmann, current chief of the state's Division of Soil and Water Conservation, would serve as director of the merged group, with a staff of 80 and annual budget of $35 million, the e-mail from Hanselmann states.
Hanselmann said he feels the changes will allow ODNR to assist conservation districts better. With the change, SWCDs would have direct access to staff members and programs in the other divisions that would allow SWCD to better serve its clients.
"I am confident that we can create scenarios that allow both ODNR and SWCDs to provide higher quality service, more efficiently," he said.
Gov. Ted Strickland's proposed budget calls for increases in fees for construction and demolition debris and for municipal solid waste taken to private landfills. This would generate more funds for the Division of Soil and Water and Ohio EPA, he has said.
Hawk said construction companies and municipalities currently pay such fees. Under the governor's proposed budget, these fees would go up.
"SWCD's have always looked for a dedicated source of funding and we think this is a good thing because it is within our realm to be involved with construction and solid waste industries," Hawk said.
According to recent budget testimony by Logan and Ohio EPA Director Chris Korleski, the goal of targeted fee increases is to move both agencies away from depending on state general revenue funds.
Logan testified the fee increases would generate roughly $16.9 million annually with $13.5 million going for Ohio EPA regulatory purposes and $3.4 million for SWCD funds.
In his testimony, Korleski said over the past 10 years there has been a slow and steady increase in out-of-state waste coming into Ohio landfills of about 20 percent in municipal solid waste and 50 percent in construction and demolition debris. He noted with the proposed increases, the overall cost per ton of both types of waste would still generally be lower and/or competitive with neighboring states.
Landfill owners and their representatives also presented testimony opposing the fee increases.
Michael Cypher, general legal counsel for the Construction and Demolition Association of Ohio, called the fee increase drastic and said it would provide no additional oversight for construction/demolition debris facilities. He also said the fee increase would make Ohio dump facilities uncompetitive with neighboring states and devastate construction, demolition and redevelopment industries already hit hard by the current economic situation.
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