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Legislation would restore SWCD funds

Buckeye Farm News

Legislation to restore funding cuts to county Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) statewide is making its way through the legislature.

The Senate recently passed Senate Bill 155, co-sponsored by Sens. John Carey, R-Wellston, and Dale Miller, D-Cleveland. SWCD funding was significantly cut last year to balance the state’s budget. Language in SB 155 directs a portion of the state’s existing fee on the sale of new tires to help restore funding to local SWCDs.

The bill also increases the amount of money that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources can distribute through grants to soil and water districts that currently receive little or no local matching funds. That amount is now $40,000, up from $30,000. ODNR has said that the increase could help these districts maintain at least one full-time employee to help the SWCD board perform minimum services for the local community.

About one-third of Ohio’s 88 conservation districts have already reduced their staff over the past couple of years, said David Hanselmann, chief of ODNR’s Division of Soil and Water Conservation, on a recent Town Hall Ohio radio show.

“Most of these staffs are pretty small to begin, with three, four, five individuals at the county level,” he said. “When you lose one or two of those, you’ve lost half of your capability to assist landowners. We have a few conservation districts that are getting zero local funding right now. The state is trying to step up and make some of that difference, and we’re pleased that the legislature found a few dollars to help us out in that regard.”

SWCD is looking for ways to cut down on costs by sharing staff across county lines, using technology to reach out to landowners better and more quickly and building new partnerships with groups that have a similar interest, Hanselmann said.

“We’re trying to bring those partners to the table to help out with the funding and delivery of our programs,” he said. “It’s a real tough time. We’re trying to broaden the partnerships and find ways to assist wherever we can.”

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