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12-08-04 Big fund cut could impact board’s future

By Nancy Allen
nallen@dailystandard.com

  Grand Lake St. Marys Watershed Project joint board members on Tuesday cut $8,000 from its proposed 2005 budget to address a countywide budget shortfall.

  And watershed coordinator Heather Buck told members she is continuing to solicit partners for funding so the watershed project can continue.
  The joint board approved the budget cut upon the request of county commissioners, who asked the joint board to trim 10 percent from its 2005 budget. The county has been in a budget shortfall for some time now due to decreasing revenues, and commissioners have asked all county departments to make cuts. The $8,000 was cut from watershed project supplies, equipment and travel funds.
  The watershed's proposed $63,631 2005 budget includes $32,000 in grant funds that pay the salary and benefits for Buck. The remainder of funds for next year's budget will have to come from groups or governmental bodies that agree to commit funds for the watershed project.
  Currently the city of Celina and Mercer and Auglaize counties contribute matching money that pays to operate the watershed project. The four-year commitments from those three entities for matching funds to operate the watershed project run out this year.  Buck said she has met with Celina city officials, Mercer County Commissioners and village of Coldwater officials and none have made any firm commitments, she said, because they are still trying to figure out their own budgets. Buck said she plans to contact five more potential partners.
  "They are very interested in what Mercer County is going to give before they commit," Buck said.
  Buck said she should know which groups plan to help and by how much by the end of January or the beginning of February.
  Buck's position is funded by a six-year, $191,000 ODNR grant and local funds. Each year grant funds decrease as the local share increases. The idea of the grant is to provide seed money to get the project going while watershed officials secure other funding sources to make the project self sustaining once grant funds run out in 2007.
  Under other business:
   Joint board members approved paying a Mercer County dairy farmer $4,000 in state cost share funds to pay for a milk house filter area he built on his land. The area is a grass-covered filter strip designed to filter out milk house waste so it does not get into waterways.
   Heard Buck report she hopes to have the watershed management plan approved by the Ohio EPA by early next year. She turned the 232-page document in to EPA officials last July. Having an endorsed plan is crucial to obtaining various grants needed to keep the program running and pay watershed landowners incentive funds to install conservation practices designed to clean up the watershed and lake.
  The next joint board meeting is 8 a.m. Jan. 13 at the Mercer County Central Services Building in Celina.

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