Commissions get $47.5M from bond

By Jeff
Mulhollem
Editor

Harrisburg — Officials at the Pennsylvania Game and Fish &
Boat commissions were understandably pleased when the state
Legislature on July 6 passed a bill authorizing $47.5 million of
the recently voter-approved $625 million bond issue to be used for
sorely needed capital improvement projects for the agencies’
existing lands and facilities.

After Gov. Ed Rendell signed House Bill 3 on July 12, also known
as Green PA — which dedicates $20 million for Game Commission and
$27.5 million for Fish & Boat Commission infrastructure
projects — officials at the two agencies began compiling lists of
their most vital needs.

“These priorities will be discussed by the commissioners at
their meeting July 16-18,” said Dan Tredinnick, Fish & Boat
Commission press secretary. “We have long said the hatchery needs
are the most urgent for our agency, and now that we know the money
is actually going to be available, the commissioners will start
looking at which individual projects are most important.”

According to Vern Ross, executive director of the Game
Commission, the funding is needed to maintain the large number of
buildings, parking lots, shooting ranges, roads, dams and other
structures that support the recreational activities of hunters and
trappers, as well as those who do not purchase a hunting or
furtaking license. “One of the greatest challenges the Game
Commission continues to face is maintaining its infrastructure,” he
said. “In the past, the agency has paid for capital improvement
projects from license revenues — the agency’s chief source of
income.

“Pennsylvania’s abundant natural resources are being effectively
and efficiently managed by the Game Commission and the Fish &
Boat Commission,” Ross added. “The expansion of the state’s current
Growing Greener program will provide much-needed funding for the
agencies to maintain its facilities and properties. Sportsmen
applaud this opportunity for the agencies to benefit from the bond
issue.”

Bond-issue money will be made available to the agencies over six
years. Under the law, these funds may not be used for land
acquisition. The law stipulates that each June 30, the executive
directors of the two agencies will provide to the House and Senate
Game and Fisheries Committee’s Republican and Democratic chairmen
an annual report detailing the projects to be funded under the
program, the amount of each project and the anticipated
environmental benefit of the project. The reports will be posted on
the agencies’ Web sites.

“The Game Commission does not currently receive any state
taxpayer dollars, yet it manages the commonwealth’s wild birds and
mammals for all Pennsylvanians,” Ross said. “Our facilities — such
as the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area Visitor Center in
Lebanon/Lancaster counties, the Pymatuning Wildlife Learning Center
in Crawford County and the elk-viewing area in Elk County — serve
all Pennsylvanians. Now is the time to provide financial assistance
to upgrade and maintain these facilities, and we very much
appreciate the Legislature ensuring that we remained in the
package.”

Jerry Feaser, Game Commission press secretary, said his agency’s
slice of the Green PA pie might allow game fund money to be
allocated to the point-of-sale licensing system the commission
wants to purchase jointly with the Fish & Boat Commission. “Now
we can’t use Green PA money for a point-of-sale system, but it has
the potential to free up other game fund dollars,” he said. “Still,
in our current fiscal crisis, it is entirely likely that the
expenditure of $2 million for a point of sale will have to await a
license increase.”

Feaser pointed out that might take awhile. State Rep. Bruce
Smith, the York County Republican who is chairman of the Game and
Fisheries Committee, told commissioners at their late-June meeting
they shouldn’t expect a license fee boost until fiscal 2007. The
Fish & Boat Commission has the money for its share of a
point-of-sale system, to be taken from the proceeds of the fishing
license fee hike approved by lawmakers last year.

From the Fish & Boat Commission’s point of view, officials
are grateful for the funding, according to Tredinnick, but it is
not nearly enough. “Don’t misunderstand, we’ll take what we can
get,” he said, “But we have $150 million worth of capital projects
that need to be done.

“Our highest priority needs total significantly more than $27
million, so this is a great first step for the Fish & Boat
Commission, but it is not going to cure what ails us,” Tredinnick
added. “The next step for us is to work with the Legislature to
come up with a long-term, stable funding source to address our
infrastructure needs and come up with a plan so that we don’t have
to rely on these every-30-years special funding initiatives coming
along.”

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