Conservation district: Budget cuts will hurt

With Gov. Tom Corbett reducing funding for conservation districts around the state to zero in his budget proposal, the county Conservation District held a breakfast to tell local legislators about the work they do.

“We’re just trying to emphasize or impress upon them the value the district has,” said Mark Davidson, district manager.

The state budget previously had about $3.8 million in funding for conservation districts.

Davidson spoke to legislators and representatives of state departments Thursday about how programs around the county, such as nutrient trading, farm visits to assure agriculture compliance and streambank stabilization projects. The county has completed 14 stabilization projects.

Davidson also said it has performed 64 easements on 8,300 acres in its farmland preservation program.

Although the state funding cut could “potentially” affect programs and projects, Davidson it would have more of an effect administratively.

It mostly would affect the district’s responsiveness to activities and projects, he said.

“We’d certainly have to make decisions, set priorities,” Davidson said.

Charley Hall, district administrator for state Rep. Garth Everett’s office, added that not only has the governor taken away funding, but the conservation district’s budget has decreased for the past five years. And he said that Act 13 impact fee was meant to supplement funding, not replace it for the conservation districts.

Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, said he was disappointed by the impact fee. He reported that 47 percent of the fee goes outside of the area. A severance tax, he believes, will be revisited, as the state is one of the only “major producers” without one.

“I was some what disappointed by what happened with the impact fee,” Mirabito said.

Mirabito and Arnie Kriner, administrator assistant to state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw’s office, also spoke about not only producing natural gas but using it locally.

“The irony of what has happened is that at least 50 percent of people in Pennsylvania can’t get natural gas,” Mirabito said.

“We’re sitting on all of this natural gas; we want to be able to use it locally,” Kriner added.

When speaking on the proposed budget, Hall said things will change through budget negotiations. He called the governor’s proposal “a starting point.”

“When the governor proposes a budget, the governor is simply proposing his spending plan. It is his proposal. It is his budget,” Hall said.

He added that although the state still is working with the same amount of money as in the governor’s proposal, legislators will continue to look at how best to use it.

All parties involved said they would continue to advocate for the conservation district.

“I will fight in Harrisburg to make sure we have the funds we need,” Mirabito said.