MWCD board cuts assessments in half

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NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio —Property owners will see their assessments paid to the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District cut in half beginning next year.

Official action to reduce the assessment was taken by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District Board of Directors at its regularly scheduled meeting Sept. 26, in New Philadelphia.

Members of the Board of Directors have approved a plan to provide for a 50 percent reduction in all assessment payments from property owners beginning in 2015 by using funds generated from the conservancy district’s recent oil and gas leases of its property in the Utica Shale development to cover project costs normally paid for by the assessment funds.

Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District officials also have pledged they will continue to review periodic financial reports to determine if the reductions will be warranted in succeeding years or if further reductions could be enacted due to revenues produced from the oil and gas leases.

Assessment reduction

The assessment reduction will result in an estimated $5.5 million overall cut in the amount of assessments collected in 2015 by the district.

The conservancy district instead will use oil and gas funds to fill that gap and ensure that projects to protect and improve the system of reservoirs and dams constructed in the 1930s continue as planned.

The approved assessment reduction also will mean the owners of commercial and industrial parcels of property who pay the assessment will see an overall reduction of nearly $2.3 million in their property tax statements next year.

The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District collects about $11 million annually in assessments from property owners in the Muskingum River Watershed.

The district has committed about $450 million over the next two decades for its obligations related to upgrades and maintenance for the system of reservoirs and dams in the Muskingum River Watershed and for updates to its recreational facilities.

With that in mind, routine financial reviews will be very important and any major cuts in oil and gas revenues could result in corresponding assessment adjustments.

The district has collected more than $173 million worth in signing bonus funds from four leases it has signed in the Utica Shale development for its properties at Clendening, Leesville, Piedmont and Seneca reservoirs.

The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District has managed oil and gas leases on its properties for its entire 80-year history as a part of its overall natural resources stewardship program.

Leases served as models

Oil and gas leases developed by the conservancy district have served as a model for other owners of public property considering strategies for management of leases that provide for revenues to enhance public benefit and services while ensuring the highest level of environmental protections.

Assessments are collected through landowners’ county property tax statements, and the funds legally must be used to pay for projects and programs that protect the operation of the system of 16 dams and reservoirs that were constructed nearly 80 years ago for flood reduction and water conservation benefits in the Muskingum River Watershed.

Nearly 95 percent of all property owners subject to the assessment pay the minimum annual amount of $12 per year.

The district serves as the federally required local cost-share sponsor for the work that has been identified at several of the system’s dams owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Projects are under way at both Dover and Bolivar dams in northern Tuscarawas County, others are planned and the entire project plan at the dams is projected to cost more than $600 million and the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District share is estimated to be up to $137 million.

Shoreline stabilization

In addition, the district has spent assessment funds on shoreline stabilization projects at the district lakes, planning for dredging of the lakes that will begin later this year, grant funding for area communities for projects that encourage flood reduction and water quality improvements and other programs.

Assessment revenues by law cannot be used to pay for projects that enhance or improve the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District’s recreational programs and facilities, and all expenditures must be covered by guidelines stipulated in the Amendment to the Official Plan of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District which was approved in 2005 by the Conservancy Court and the Board of Directors.

The district collects assessments from owners of property in all or portions of the following counties: Ashland, Belmont, Carroll, Coshocton, Guernsey, Harrison, Holmes, Knox, Licking, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, Richland, Stark, Summit, Tuscarawas, Washington and Wayne.

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