Try, try, try again: Harrison County SWCD is hoping voters pass levy

CADIZ, Ohio — The Harrison County Soil and Water Conservation District is taking another try at getting a levy passed.

The group is asking for a 1/4 mill levy to be placed on the May ballot. If passed by voters, the levy would generate $52,000 a year. The funds will be used for operating expenses.

Yvonne Ackerman, Harrison SWCD program administrator, said what most people don’t know is that the state will match the local funds by 53 percent. This means the state will match the $52,000 with approximately $28,000.

The district does not expect to get any funding from the county because of a budget deficit.

“There has been no money funded as of yet,” Ackerman said. The SWCD has another meeting set in March to see if commissioners can appropriate any money, but it doesn’t look hopeful.

The SWCD has enough money to run through June, but after that is a big question mark, officials said.

The group is applying for a grant through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that will help cover operating expenses, if it is granted. Last year, the agency received $35,000 to cover operating expenses and they are hopeful that will happen again. However, a rule stops the grant from being awarded to a group more than three times. The organization has already been a recipient two times, so if it is awarded, this will be the last time the grant can be used.

Harrison SWCD has tried to pass three other levies without luck. The levy was on the ballot in 2007 and twice in 2008.

Ackerman said there is a misconception that the group is part of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District or the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and it is not.

Harrison SWCD Board Director Don Jones said he is hopeful the levy will be passed in May after failing three other times because the district has lowered the millage on the levy and they have continued to work hard on limited funding.

“We have cut everything we can cut. We are hopeful residents will realize we can’t cut anything else and we need it,” Jones said.

He added the district has received no money from the county for the past three years and that has put severe limits on the district. Jones said the agency runs on the funding from the ODNR and a few small grants. He said it’s clear the county doesn’t have the money in the coffers to fund the SWCD.

Jones said the district has been wise with the money it has received and has made the most of it, but that is coming to an end.

“It’s not because of mismanagement of funds or frivolous spending that we are in this position. It’s just not there,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, the agency spent just under $50,000 last year to operate with two employees — one full-time and one part-time. The funds budgeted for 2011 and beyond are to continue with one full-time and one part-time employee. The group is hoping to have the technician work additional hours so some of the programming that has been cut can be resurrected.

They have been able to continue 90 percent of the programs and services offered. In 2009, the fifth grade forestry field day and the conservation field day were the only events canceled due to a lack of funding.

One way the group is doing more with less is by expanding its presence on the Internet. The group has a Facebook page and presents information on Twitter. In addition, the group has changed its Web site in hopes of reaching a wider audience.

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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