WI: Budget for DNR takes hit

Sturgeon Bay, Wis. – The Natural Resources Board learned that
the new biennial state budget will result in a reduction of $53
million, or 4.7 percent, from the DNR’s 2009-10 budget.

“The good news is that the lapses required by this budget are
significantly lower than were required in our last budget,” said
Joe Polasek, the DNR budget director, during the board’s June 22
meeting.

Lapses are dollars provided in a budget, but are not spent, and
thus lapse. That money is then transferred to the General Fund to
reduce the state deficit.

“There are no GPR (general purpose revenue) increases in our
budget, and there are no fish or wildlife license fee increases in
the new budget,” Polasek said.

Forty-four percent of the DNR budget is funded by the Conservation
Fund (those segregated funds from the sale of license and stamps).
Another 20 percent comes from GPR (state taxes), and 15 percent
from federal funds coming back to the DNR.

The new two-year DNR budget will total $1.076 billion. The new
budget does not include any furloughs for state employees, as the
last budget did, but employees will pay $12.2 million more per year
for their health insurance and retirement benefits.

In the past two-year budget, the DNR had a total of 2,709
positions, of which 1,484 (or 54 percent of the agency) were funded
by the Conservation Fund. Another 489 jobs were funded by federal
funds, and 301 by GPR.

Under the new budget, the DNR will lose 71 positions, including 10
funded by GPR, 32 funded by the Conservation Fund, and 24 by the
Recycling Fund.

The loss of 66 positions is a “Catch-22” because the Department of
Administration did not give the DNR clearance to fill the positions
and, thus, they were vacant. Since they were vacant, they were then
eliminated in the new budget. The funds from those positions, paid
by the Conservation Fund, go to help balance the fund; it is not
money the DNR will lose.

The programs where some small increases in funding were allowed
dealt with nuisance animals, new parks and forest operations, and
reimbursing local fire departments for working on fires.

Conservation wardens will get new recruit training classes in each
of the next two years, new mobile laptop computers, and radios
linking wardens with other law enforcement agencies in case of a
security problem.

The budget includes $883,000 the first year and $1.5 million the
second year to pay aids in lieu of taxes to local municipalities
for state lands taken off tax rolls.

Stewardship changes

Kurt Thiede, DNR land administrator, said that while the
Stewardship allocation was increased to $86 million per year in
2011, for the remainder of the new budget the amount allocated to
Stewardship will be $60 million.

“With that $60 million we can do good work, and still have a
program that preserves open land,” Thiede said.

The DNR will have $25.5 million for Fiscal Year 2012, $24.5 million
for FY 2013, and $30.5 million yearly for FYs 2014-20 for
Stewardship land buys.

One change in the new Stewardship Fund is that the amount the DNR
may spend each year includes grants for county forests beginning in
FY 2011. That change will help counties in expanding, or creating,
county forests.

Non-profit conservation groups will be able to apply for $12
million available in grants annually from this year through
2020.

Gov. Scott Walker originally had asked that Stewardship-funded land
purchases only be made if the local government passed a non-binding
resolution of support for the purchase, but the new wording in the
budget says the local government “may” pass such a resolution.
Thus, a show of local support or opposition to the purchase is not
required.

Another change in the budget is that previously the Joint Finance
Committee didn’t have to review Stewardship purchases unless they
exceeded $750,000. That has now been lowered to $250,000. Thiede
said that had that rule been in effect during the previous year,
the committee could have reviewed 17 land transactions rather than
the five that they did review.

It has no specific time limit to review the purchase, and the
review allows the committee to hold up a purchase.

Another change is that past usership is no longer a reason for
closing land, other than trails, to specific outdoor recreation
uses. In the past it was, if the Natural Resources Board
agreed.

There is some question about the carryover of obligated funds. In
the past, funds that were obligated, but not used right away, were
still available in the next fiscal year. But now a legal
interpretation is needed to determine at what point the DNR commits
to a project, and thus those funds carry over to continued work the
following year.

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