Ohio budget ‘fair’ to agriculture; SWCD funding is restored

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SALEM, Ohio — The cuts proposed in Gov. John Kasich’s original budget for Ohio’s soil and water conservation districts were not as severe in the final budget as originally proposed.

Holding steady

Mindy Bankey, CEO of the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, said the full ramifications of the budget are not known, but the budget looks similar to the one passed in 2010-2011.

Bankey said the SWCD is funded much like the county extension offices where a portion of the funding comes from the state and a portion comes from counties.

The general fund will be budgeting $2.9 million for the SWCD offices. Of that amount, Heidelberg University will be receiving a $250,000 earmark.

Other sources

Another portion of the funding comes from three sources: a fee on municipal solid waste dumping, which equals 25 cents a ton; construction demolition, which is also 25 cents a ton, and for each scrap tire collected, 50 cents is paid.

The total state budget for SWCD is approximately $10.9 million, but it depends on the fees collected.

Linda Yeager, district administrator for the Carroll Soil and Water Conservation District, said there is bright side: If the cuts proposed in March had taken place, they would have been in a much different position than they are now. The cuts proposed would have eliminated $2.9 million.

“It’s always a challenge,” said Yeager. “It’s a struggle, but we’ll do our best with what we do have this year.”

A statewide task force is being created to look at the bottom line of the SWCD.

“We want to take an honest look at the SWCD services and see if improvement is needed and if it does, do it,” said John Kessler, assistant chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ division of soil and water resources.

Task force

The task force will begin meeting in September and has to submit a report to the governor by Dec. 31.

The task force will look at possible law changes to improve the delivery of districts’ services, and try to identify possible funding from other sources.

Closing the gap

Gov. Kasich praised members of the General Assembly who supported Ohio’s FY2012-2013 budget for their leadership in helping restore fiscal stability to Ohio, and recreate a jobs-friendly environment.

“Together we’ve done something that people said couldn’t be done — we closed the largest budget shortfall Ohio’s ever faced and we did it without raising taxes. In fact, we cut taxes $300 million per year,” Kasich said in a prepared statement.

“It wasn’t easy and it took courage — it always takes courage to do the right thing — and I’m proud to count myself in the camp of the courageous today,” the governor said.

ODA budget

Ohio Department of Agriculture Director James J. Zehringer said the final budget does not have any changes for ODA from the governor’s original proposal.

He said the budget served up a 9 percent cut for the department. It will require more efficiency in the department and is being helped along with retirements in ODA. It will also include the elimination of a few programs, getting the ODA back to its core mission, including ensuring a safe food supply.

The weights and measurements division is getting an increase in its budget from fiscal year 2011. It will go from $200,000 to $600,000. Zehringer said past cuts have triggered a backlog of six to nine months to get many scales tested for accuracy. The additional funding will come from $75 fees that will be charged per device, which will include large capacity scales like livestock and railway scales.

Extension, research

The line items that partially fund Ohio State University Extension and the university’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) were much more favorable after the General Assembly was through with them.

Kasich’s original proposal had suggested 10 percent cuts to both agencies in fiscal year 2012, but lawmakers restored the bulk of the funding.

Extension is funded with county, state and federal dollars, along with other grants; the OARDC also receives state and federal funding, as well as research grants.

In fiscal year 2010, OSU Extension received $23.52 million from the state, which totaled about 35 percent of its budget. That dropped to $22.5 million in FY11, and will be cut slightly to $22.2 million in FY12 and FY13.

The OARDC will get roughly a 3 percent cut in fiscal year 2012, to $33.1 million, down from $34.0 million in FY11. The allocation will remain flat in FY13, at $33.1 million.

Priorities

The overall state budget, the parts that affected agriculture, rural residents, Ohio Department of Agriculture, and agribusiness, was “very fair” to agriculture, said Jack Fisher, executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

Calling it a “transition budget,” Fisher said it will motivate agriculture to prioritize issues and work on collaborating with partners like townships, soil and water conservation districts, or school districts.

He said he was encouraged by legislators and the Kasich administration recognizing the role agriculture plays in Ohio, and the opportunities it provides for economic development in the state.

“We are primed to be leaders in economic development in Ohio,” Fisher said.

Pennsylvania wasn’t as lucky with their budget. There were reductions to cooperative extension and agriculture research.

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

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