SALEM, Ohio — Voters in Harrison County will be asked to support a 0.5 mil levy for their soil and water conservation district March 4.
If passed, the new levy would generate about $94,000 per year from district taxpayers.
If it fails, the district office could be forced to close or eliminate its entire staff and operate solely through the board of directors.
This is the second time around for the 0.5 mil levy. Harrison County residents turned it down in November by about 700 votes.
The conservation district has historically been financed through appropriations from the county commissioners. That money was then matched by the state.
This year, a tight county budget meant the district received no funding from the commissioners, giving nothing for the state to match.
Right now, the district’s two-person staff is operating on a small carryover budget from last year, according to Don Jones, chairman of the Harrison Soil and Water Conservation District board of supervisors.
But surviving on the carryover can only last so long. Jones estimates the money will run out by May or June.
“We’ve got to get that money from the county in order to get that state match we’re really after,” Jones said.
Even if the levy passes, the conservation district won’t see any money until 2009, and the board would have to look for other options to get through the second half of 2008.
The district has been running on an increasingly smaller and smaller budget, cutting its staff in half during the past five years.
If the final two staff positions are dropped and the district has to operate through its nonpaid board of directors, Jones said there will less help and far fewer options for farmers and other landowners.
And while closing the doors isn’t a choice Jones wants to think about, it’s a possibility.
“We hope not, but that is an option,” he said.
In 2007, the conservation district received $39,500 from the county and an equal amount from the state. The levy and resulting match would generate significantly more than that, but Jones said the money will help the district beef up its staff and offer more programs.
“That would allow us more opportunities to help the farmers and producers in our county,” Jones said.
Why it failed
The chairman said there are a couple of reasons that could explain why the levy failed in November.
Some voters could have confused the Harrison Soil and Water Conservation District with the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. Jones said the confusion likely came from the similar acronyms used to identify the groups — SWCD and MWCD.
The two organizations are not related.
Also, the chairman said there’s a misconception that the levy is a “farming tax” that would only benefit those in agriculture.
But Jones said the district’s responsibilities go beyond the agricultural realm. For instance, the district works with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to investigate pollution complaints that could affect drinking water in towns and cities.
If the levy fails again in March, Jones said voters will see it on their ballots in the fall.
“It’s our turn to step up to the plate and do what we’ve got to do,” he said.
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