Frustrated NY board recommends a license rollback
Albany — New York’s hunters, anglers and trappers are getting less for their license dollars now than they were before a license fee increase was enacted in 2009, the chairman of the state’s Conservation Fund Advisory board told state lawmakers.
CFAB chairman Jason Kemper, testifying Feb. 7 at a joint legislative budget hearing on environmental conservation, told lawmakers that money generated from the 2009 license hike isn’t being used “in the manner it was intended to when the license fee was initiated.”
And, in fact, much of those revenues aren’t being used at all, sitting idly in the Conservation Fund while staff shortages exist within DEC’s Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources and those positions continue to remain vacant.
The level of frustration among the board reached its breaking point at a Feb. 13 meeting, when members unanimously approved a resolution calling for a rollback of sporting license fees as a result of the state’s delay in filling the fish and wildlife vacancies.
“There is no need to carry this large balance (in the Conservation Fund) with the current staffing levels,” Kemper said. “So reduced revenues and reduced fees seem to be completely in order and are consistent with Gov. Cuomo’s messages.”
Even though the bulk of the Conservation Fund comes from sporting license sales, the fund has been caught up in the state’s cash crunch despite the increased revenues generated from the license fee hike. The state’s fiscal 2009-10 budget reduced Conservation Fund allocations – the amount of money allowed to be spent from within the fund – by 26 percent. That was followed in 2010-11 by another 40 percent reduction.
This year’s allocation remained on hold from 2010-11 despite the growing fund balance, Kemper noted.
As a result, the Conservation Fund is currently carrying a balance of over $40 million.
Some of that fund balance is being eroded by a shifting of salaries of environmental conservation officers from the state’s general fund back into the Conservation Fund. Twenty ECO salaries were shifted over to the Conservation Fund last December; Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s state budget proposes to move another 65 ECO salaries to be covered by the Conservation Fund.
“(The board) finds it extremely frustrating that vacant positions in the Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources are not allowed to be filled but yet approximately $8 million of ECO personal service time can be proposed to be placed onto the Conservation Fund without any discussion or consideration of the (job) vacancies that exist,” Kemper told lawmakers.
Staffing levels within DEC’s fish and wildlife division stood at 349 at the end of 2011, down from 412 in August of 2009. Over that same period, the number of fish and wildlife staff salaries funded out of the Conservation Fund has risen from 189 in 2009 to 228 at the end of last year. Kemper also noted the total number of DEC staff members now funded through the Conservation Fund is at 259, up from 203 in August 2009.
“What is happening is the sportsmen in this state are paying for more of DEC’s fish and wildlife program and receiving less support than they ever have in the past,” Kemper said.
Some vacancies within DEC’s fish hatchery system are in the process of being filled, but Kemper said leaving those jobs unfilled since the summer of 2010 resulted in “cutbacks in production and egg take at the hatcheries” and fewer fish stocked in state waters.
Kemper said the board in 2009 “reluctantly” agreed to sell the license fee hike to sportsmen, but “with the expectation and guarantee that there would be no decrease in the level of service” to hunters, anglers and trappers.