By Nancy Allen
Local officials are lobbying state legislators to increase state matching funds to soil and water conservation districts.
Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Administrator Nikki Hawk and board supervisors Leroy Johnsman and Bill Clouse spoke with state Rep. Keith Faber, R-Celina, and Senator Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, at the State Capital on Wednesday. Board chairman Rick Muhlenkamp testified last week in front of the House Finance Committee on the same issue.
Hawk updated soil and water officials on the lobbying efforts during a soil and water board meeting Thursday.
Hawk said the state's 88 SWCDs are facing a double whammy.
The first is Governor Bob Taft's proposal to cut local government funds by 20 percent, and the second is shrinking state matching funds that come to SWCDs annually, she said. "Because SWCDs are non-mandated programs, (Taft's proposed) cut could trickle down to local soil and water districts through cuts from county commissioners," Hawk said. "Then because we would get less local funds, we would get less state matching funds."
Hawk said local funds to the SWCD were matched by the state at 98 percent in 2000, but in Taft's proposed budget they would be matched at 78 percent in fiscal year 2006 and 76 percent in fiscal year 2007.
"What we are asking for is a one-to-one match, meaning that for every dollar in local money we get, we get a dollar from the state," Hawk said.
Last year the Mercer district received $130,678 in local commissioner-appropriated funds and 90 percent ($130,678) in state matching funds. The district's 2004 total budget totaled $323,000 with a $11,000 carryover.
This year the district received $130,050 in local funds from commissioners. The district likely will not know how much state matching money it will receive until early July.
The state Division of Soil and Water Conservation would need an additional $2.48 million in fiscal year 2006 and an additional $2.88 million in fiscal year 2007 to guarantee the one-to-one match to local SWCDs, Hawk said.
The SWCD office has made deep cuts in recent years to offset shrinking county funds. Since 2003 the SWCD board made decisions to temporarily freeze employee wages, eliminate personal days and had staff on family health insurance plans begin paying a part of their premiums. Last month the board cut the hours of two SWCD employees and agreed to fore-go a 2.4 percent cost of living raise for all employees.
Board members agreed to renew a memorandum of understanding between the Mercer SWCD and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Soil and Water Conservation for state pollution abatement funds. The local SWCD can allot the funds to farmers to minimize pollution from agricultural operations mostly associated with manure. The state funds have been available to SWCDs for several years.
Hawk said the Mercer SWCD currently has $70,000 encumbered for producers who currently are installing pollution abatement practices such as manure storage facilities, a wetland, grass waterways and a milk house wastewater treatment area. In 2003 funds were allocated to farmers so they could construct temporary pits dug in the ground to stop the overflow of liquid manure from rain-swollen storage structures.
Hawk also said tree seedling orders will be taken through noon on Monday at the SWCD office. Fifteen different species of hardwood and pine trees and two wildflower seed mixes are available.
The next SWCD meeting is 8 a.m. April 14 at the Mercer SWCD office in Celina.