State budget lapses threaten farmers, land conservationAs part of Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011-2013 budget, an additional $174.3 million must be cut from various governmental agencies by the end of the biennium. The details of the Department of Administration’s plan were released Dec. 23, and while the UW System, which needs to trim $46.1 million from its budget, may be the hardest hit, seemingly small cuts may be the most difficult to bear at the local level.
By: By Kathryn McKenzie, Superior Telegram
As part of Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011-2013 budget, an additional $174.3 million must be cut from various governmental agencies by the end of the biennium. The details of the Department of Administration’s plan were released Dec. 23, and while the UW System, which needs to trim $46.1 million from its budget, may be the hardest hit, seemingly small cuts may be the most difficult to bear at the local level.
Take county conservation, for example: The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection must cut an additional $2.3 million from its 2012 budget and it proposes to reduce county conservation staffing grants by $1.1 million to meet this requirement. Under DATCP’s proposal, just 97 state-supported county conservationists — roughly 1.35 per county — will be left to administer the many federal and state initiatives designed to protect agricultural resources including the Land and Water Resource Management Program, the Farmland Preservation Program and various other runoff management standards.
In Douglas County, this staffing cut would mean $15,000 additional is needed for a budget where we levy $25,000 for conservation and return about $500,000 in grants each year. The two staff members we have could not be reached as they are out working on a project, getting the work done. The additional dollars are not in our department budget.
DATCP is already providing counties with funding far below the statutorily recommended staffing levels of three county conservationists per county, resulting in counties already understaffed to provide proper technical support and nutrient management training to local farmers. Further reductions will force County Land Conservation Departments to deprioritize farmers’ needs in favor of other programs funded through nonagricultural-related grants.
We recognize the fragile state of Wisconsin’s economy and understand the need for these agency budget cuts, however the state funding reductions through DATCP should be made another way. Maintaining a delicate balance between program funding and program staffing is critical for the efficient administration of locally-based policy, like soil and nutrient management. Without county staff to implement state and federal programs, funding for nutrient management planning, farmland preservation and other agricultural activities will be left unused.
We support a proposal being advanced by counties to transfer nutrient management cost-sharing dollars over to cover the loss of county staffing grants. This approach will preserve county conservation staff — the people on the ground that help farmers obtain federal and state aid, secure important farmland preservation tax credits and save money through proper nutrient management planning. Losing county staff would be detrimental to the farmers who have developed good working relationships with these staff and rely on them for help sustaining Wisconsin’s strong agricultural economy.
Therefore, we support the counties’ proposal.
Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, is on the Joint Finance Committee. If you have utilized the Land Conservation Department’s expertise, please let him hear from you. His Madison office number is (800) 469-6562 or email Sen.Jauch@legis.wisconsin.gov. Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, is looking into the issue as well. His Madison number is (888) 534-0073 and his email is Rep.Milroy@legis.wisconsin.gov.
The lapse plans for the biennium have been sent by the Department of Administration to the Joint Finance Committee and the committee has until Jan. 17 to act.
The administration department sent these lapses with DATCP’s proposal in its original condition.
Kathryn McKenzie is chairwoman of the Douglas County Land Conservation Committee.