Low contributions from state force request for county money
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MOUNT VERNON — The Knox Soil & Water Conservation District is receiving a state match this year of 61 cents for every dollar of Knox County appropriations, which is about “as low as we’ve been [in state contribution] in a long time,” Knox County commissioners heard Tuesday.
That assessment came from KSWSD district program administrator Rob Clendening, who has requested a 2019 appropriation of $170,500 from the county. That request is $16,000 more than the county provided to the soil and water district and its five full-time employees the past two years — when the state match was 65 percent.
With a new governor, governor-elect Mike DeWine, to take office in January, soil and water districts statewide have no idea how their funding will be prioritized, Clendening said. But he offered that one thing is clear — the trend of state matching funds has been trending downward under the current Kasich administration, he said. You have to go back to the mid-1980s to find a lower state match amount than the current 61 cents this year, he said. In 1985, it was 56.5 percent.
The peak for state matching funds was in 2008, with the state matching each county appropriation dollar with 98.46 cents. But since then, it has mainly trended downward to the present-year 61 cents, Clendening noted, while providing a chart to commissioners with state match percentages each year since 1959.
Next year begins the first year of a five-year budget cycle for KSWCD that considers long-term budget projections, but a new governor coming in makes that “a shot in the dark,” Clendening said. He added that soil and water conservation districts statewide hope the incoming administration will prioritize their funding to 2008 levels — a nearly one-for-one dollar match, and justified given the amount of soil and water conservation assistance they offer to public and private landowners, he said.
KSWCD provides countywide services with assistance on issues including soil and water management resources, erosion control, livestock waste management, wildlife management partnering with the Division of Wildlife, and nutrient management for livestock producers. It also works with private landowners on 35 grass waterways, which are naturally growing plants situated in patterns to prevent gully erosion into wetlands.
Among its recent accomplishments, KSWCD worked with the Knox County Farm Bureau and others involved in a partnership to secure grant funding used to create a free phone app, the Ohio Nutrient Management Record Keeper, ONMRK. it allows farmers to record manure and fertilizer application date in a matter of seconds, Clendening said. The ONMRK app has been so successful that it now has more than 2,000 active user accounts in 22 states.
Clendening also offered to commissioners that 16 years ago, their predecessors came to KSWCD with a problem involving high operations costs associated with trucking and disposing of contaminated wastewater from the county’s closed landfill site. Using a model similar to one that worked with dairy farmers, KSWCD constructed a wetland treatment system to address the problem at the site. Clendening and his staff are also working on a countywide ditch project that has developed assessments and will take action with feedback from county officials.
KSWCD is projecting state matching funding for 2019 that would be $110,825, but that is a projection, Clendening said. Combined with a requested county appropriation of $170,500, a Division of Wildlife grant of $17,500, a Regional Planning Commission reimbursement of $18,952 to fund an executive secretary under contract who helps with home site reviews, and a carry-over appropriation of $68,285, the KSWCD total budgeted funds for 2019 are estimated at $389,562. Most of that amount, or $242,275, is for salaries of five full-time employees, plus their state retirement contribution benefits adding more than $34,000 and insurance of just over $61,000.