Overland resigns from oversight committee

Field Editor

St. Paul Dave Overland has resigned from the Game and Fish Fund
Budget Oversight Committee over frustration that politically savvy
special interest groups are getting below-cost services from the
DNR while hunters and anglers foot the bill.

“We’re looking over the shoulders of hard-working DNR employees
to save nickels and dimes, while special interest groups pocket
more than we save by using their influence to avoid paying their
full share for fees,” Overland says.

Recent efforts to rectify some DNR fee shortfalls, a stated goal
of the Pawlenty administration, were watered down during talks
between the agency and special interest groups. Overland says the
continuing shortfalls will cost the Game and Fish Fund over
$500,000 annually, which is more than the DNR spends on its
statewide muskie program. The Game and Fish Fund is a dedicated
account derived from hunting and fishing license fees and excise
taxes on guns and gear.

Overland is especially concerned about fees associated with
aquatic plant management, lake aeration, and commercial fishing.
While new fee proposals generate additional revenue for the DNR,
all three programs remain below cost.

The greatest gap is in fees for permits that allow lakeshore
owners to poison aquatic vegetation adjacent to their property. The
permit fee is $20 per property, with a $200 cap if lakeshore owners
apply as a group. Aquatic plant management costs the DNR about
$513,000 per year for reviews, inspection, and enforcement, but
license fees only return $112,000.

The DNR proposed raising the per property fee to $50 and
eliminating the cap. After meeting with interest groups, primarily
the Minnesota Lake Association, the DNR modified the fee proposal
to $35 per property with a $750 cap. The proposed fee structure is
expected to generate $125,000 in revenue, still well below
cost.

The DNR will take another look at the fee structure as part of
an upcoming review of the aquatic plant management program.

The aeration program costs the DNR in excess of $62,000 per
year, but new proposed fees will generate only an estimated $35,000
annually. Program costs are paid with monies from boat licenses,
the Game and Fish Fund, and the General Fund.

The commercial fishing program costs the DNR about $460,000 per
year, says Fisheries chief Ron Payer. The existing fee structure
collects about $186,000 annually. Proposed fees would generate an
additional $193,000 in revenue.

“We will be $81,000 short of recovering our full costs,” Payer
says. “I think the package is pretty reasonable from our
perspective and the commercial fishing groups are not opposing
it.”

The DNR may look for new efficiencies to make up some of the
shortfall, he says. Another commercial fishing fee increase may be
considered the next time angling licenses are raised. He says it is
difficult to catch up below-cost fees when some have hardly been
raised in 50 years. Still, he appreciates Overland’s concern that
the state’s hunters and anglers must make up the difference.

“I think Dave is voicing the concerns of many hunters and
anglers,” Payer says. “They want to see their license money spent
directly on hunting and fishing.”

Overland, who is secretary of the Minnesota Sportfishing
Congress, says he’ll continue to remain involved in fishing issues.
However, he feels compelled to take a stand on the issue of fee
inequities.

He announced his resignation from the oversight committee to
legislative committee chairs, outdoors groups, and DNR officials.
He is disappointed the state may miss an opportunity to rectify the
long-standing inequities.

“We have a governor who is willing to say fees should cover the
costs of services,” Overland says. “I expected the DNR would take
the ball and run with it. I don’t think they’re pursuing fee
increases hard enough.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *