Conservation district makes progress in budget battle
The final budget numbers aren’t in yet, but it looks as though the Leavenworth Conservation District has won the first battle in getting funding for next year.
Whether the district was going to get any money was in question as the commissioners met with the individual department heads during its initial budget hearings.
“I think you can mark this up in a win column as to accomplishing what you wanted to do,” Commissioner John Flower told a group of local, state and federal conservation representatives.
On Thursday, the group of representatives, as well as the Leavenworth County Commissioners, met to discuss the future of the department. After an hour-long discussion, it seemed as if the board was convinced that it needed to keep the conservation district in some fashion.
Speaking on behalf of the conservation district at the meeting were Greg Foley, executive director of the State Conservation Commission; James Krueger, assistant state conservationist for the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Salina; Alan Larson, district conservationist for the NRCS; members of the Conservation district’s board; Susan Garrett, the local district’s director; and some of the county’s local farmers.
Foley said that the SCC works in close partnership with the federal and local agencies to provide local farmers with the recourses they need.
If the county were to cut out the district, he said it would be cutting an important link the government has to the producers.
“They are the vital piece of the technical delivery of programs,” Foley said about the local district. “Our mission is to put conservation on the ground, and it becomes difficult if there are roadblocks in the ground that producer have to work around.”
Money was one of the main concerns from the commission. In its budget estimations, the county would have a $3 million revenue shortfall, which means all departments would need to look at the possibility of funding cuts to avoid raising property taxes. Additionally, Flower said the conservation district has tapped into its reserve funding to stay operational.
The conservation district received $37,000 from the county last year and once again asked for that amount for 2010.
The conservation district runs each year with about an $80,000 annual budget that is made up of the county’s portion, a $25,000 matching state grant, and the difference made up from various other grants. If the county were to eliminate its portion of the budget, the district would not be eligible for the matching state grants.
Commissioner Clyde Graeber, said one of his main concerns was making sure that there would be enough service to Leavenworth County residents now that the local NRCS office was closed and the nearest office was in Jefferson County.
Kruger said he was committed to providing the same service to the county as it had before, but for several years his staffing and budget has been gradually cut.
“But that’s not a fault of the district,” he told the commissioners. “The district, in fact, has stepped up to the plate and has tried to help.”
Garrett said she had another meeting with the commissioners this week, and she was feeling optimistic.
“I think this last meeting went much better than our previous meeting,” Garrett said. “We had a lot of positive feedback from our state and federal officials. It was very encouraging.”