Friday, May 5, 2017

PA House Republican Budget Deals Crippling Blow To DCNR Budget, Leads To Layoffs

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn told members of the House and Senate Environmental Committees Monday the House-passed Republican budget-- House Bill 218 (Saylor-R-York)-- would deal “a crippling blow” to the agency and lead to layoffs.
Secretary Dunn said the cuts would also eliminate the Pennsylvania Trails Program and other vital grant programs, reduce seasonal staff, services and programs available at state parks, and cuts in forest district staff creating visitor safety issues.
Elimination of Gov. Wolf’s proposed PA Economic Revitalization Fund would result in the loss of $22 million in Oil and Gas Lease Fund and $15 million in Environmental Stewardship Fund monies significantly reducing the ability to operate core agency functions and community grants.
If no substitute funding is provided to make up for the cuts through a House Republican proposed Endowment Fund, DCNR will have to shut down its Minerals Division resulting in no gas program monitoring, no gas lease transactions and no gas well auditing.
It would also stop tree planting efforts in communities through TreeVitalize and all aerial fire suppression, that spots fires and makes airtanker drops throughout the Commonwealth.  These monies also support the purchase of all field equipment, including heavy vehicles used in road maintenance and fire-fighting.  
In addition, it would further reduce the Commonwealth’s funding for the Gypsy Moth spraying program.
The text of the letter follows--
As DCNR prepares for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, we are dedicated to using our limited resources wisely and efficiently, in support of a cooperative and seamless government that works for all Pennsylvanians.  
However, as my staff and I have reviewed the budget recently passed by the House Republican Caucus (House Bill 218, Printer’s No. 1236), we have deep concerns about the impact that it would have on the capability and efficiency of this agency.  
House Bill 218 makes considerable cuts to DCNR’s budget, dealing a crippling blow to an agency that receives only one half of one percent of the state’s general funds, yet provides significant economic returns to the Commonwealth.
The bill calls for a $2.8 million reduction to DCNR’s operating budget, with the most significant cuts to general government operations ($1.3 million loss) that would lead to layoffs.  General Government Operations funds 6 of 8 of DCNR’s bureaus, which affects agency administration, grants programs, scientific and mapping services, and engineering and design services.  
An additional cut of nearly $1.5 million to the state parks and forests operations budgets would reduce services in a way that would impact the public’s enjoyment of these lands.
Specifically, the public and industry would face these impacts if HB 218 was enacted with its current proposed funding levels:
-- Reduction in the public services and programs available at State Parks. A $971,000 cut will result in a wage force reduction equal to eliminating approximately 40 seasonal employees. In FY15-16, the last full fiscal year completed, the Bureau utilized 953,000 wage hours to support operations.  HB 218 will only enable the purchase of 738,000 wage hours, a 22.5 percent reduction.
To operate all 121 units currently under State Parks authority, the park system’s core salaried complement needs to be preserved and funded at a ceiling of no less than the 616 positions identified in the Governor’s proposed budget.  
The 616-complement number represents a 33-salaried position reduction while in recent years the bureau has absorbed additional mandates to operate more facilities: Point State Park [Pittsburgh] and Washington Crossing Historic Park [Bucks County].
Service reductions would include significantly reduced operating seasons and/or days and hours of access such as:
-- Camping seasons shortened and overnight accommodations negatively impacted at 53 state parks.
-- Reduced operation days/hours at 61 state parks headquarters’ locations, impacting the availability of permit sales for boat launching, mooring, and firewood.
-- Seasonal reductions for restrooms – cleaning and operation hours
-- Reduced safety patrols and shortened beach seasons effecting 45 state parks.  
-- 10 percent reduction in law enforcement patrols across entire system
-- Elimination of the Pennsylvania trails program or other vital grant programs and technical assistance to communities.  A staffing reduction in the Bureau of Recreation and Conservation would eliminate capacity to develop and implement trails projects and eliminate statewide trails and greenways planning, and jeopardize support to small communities (approximately 70 percent of PA communities) provided through the Small Community Program the Peer and Circuit Rider Program, and specialized Technical Assistance to communities. Pennsylvania’s parks and trails are engines of economic activity.  Local parks operations and capital spending created $1,628,999,305 in economic activity and supported 12,480 jobs in 2013.  
-- Protection of public safety in Pennsylvania’s State Forests. A $502,000 cut will result in a wage force reduction in the fall season by 25-50 percent in each forest district, creating visitor safety issues:
-- Because fall is the busiest season in the forests with hunters and hikers, search and rescue operations are at the highest.  Last fall alone, forestry personnel conducted 9 search and rescues.
-- Reduced road maintenance work going into the hunting season and critical winter season could include early road closures, which will reduce visitor services for key recreational users of the forests.
-- Wage cuts in the spring season will leave DCNR short staffed for the fire season, which is the most active and dangerous time for wildfires in Pennsylvania.  This will put lives and property at risk.
-- Dramatic service reductions in online tools needed by industry and the public. DCNR has invested millions in recent years to develop databases to aid in the processing of permits and protection of natural resources.  Cuts would jeopardize these tools:
-- The state's only publicly available database of oil and gas wells, EDWIN (Exploration and Development Wells Information System).  EDWIN currently holds records for more than 178,000 wells, and is updated daily as new information is received. More than 100,000 transactions per year are performed through EDWIN.  Cuts in staffing would result in an outdated database used by the oil and gas industry, the academic and research community and the public.
-- PA Groundwater Information System (PaGWIS).  DCNR is mandated to license water well drillers, collect detailed information of groundwater resources, and disseminate that information to the public.  Cuts to PaGWIS would result in the delivery of incomplete data to government agencies, groundwater and environmental professionals, and private well owners.  PaGWIS received 73,040 hits in 2016, and BTGS answered an additional 675 requests for groundwater information.
-- Conservation Explorer. Delays will occur in reviewing development projects and other activities seeking permits through our Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory process and the Conservation Explorer Tool.
-- Decrease in maintenance and improvements projects in state park and state forests. A reduction in engineering and design staff would increase facility maintenance repair and replacements costs and completion times, resulting in the potential for public health and safety concerns.
-- A cut to wage maintenance staff will reduce the number of planned maintenance projects.  Roof replacements, water and sewer system maintenance, dam maintenance, and energy conservation projects will be deferred at all 121 state parks.  
-- State Parks will no longer inspect bridges under 20’, effecting 26 state parks.  
-- Dam inspections will only be conducted every two years rather than every year, affecting 65 state parks.  
-- The time for processing project documents for payments of contractors will increase and it will take longer for projects to go through the bidding phase.  There will also be less overall funding DCNR can bid out to new projects, impacting many businesses from planners to consultants to construction firms.
Additionally, elimination of the Governor’s proposed use of the Pennsylvania Economic Revitalization Fund (PERF) to make the necessary transfers to fund DCNR operations, would result in a loss of $37 million to the Commonwealth - $22 million to the Oil and Gas Lease Fund and $15 million to the Environmental Stewardship Fund.  
This elimination would drastically cut our ability to operate core functions.  DCNR uses a portion of its allocated Oil and Gas Lease Fund to support basic operations that cannot be covered by the state’s General Fund budget.  
There would also be a $3.6 million loss to DCNR’s portion of the Environmental Stewardship Fund, reducing the amount of funds available for community grants and for critical rehabilitation and repair of state park and forest infrastructure and maintenance.
If no substitute funding comes through the GOP-proposed Endowment Fund, then DCNR will have to shut down its Minerals Division, resulting in no gas program monitoring, no gas lease transactions, and no gas well auditing.  
It would also stop tree planting efforts in communities through TreeVitalize and all aerial fire suppression, that spots fires and makes airtanker drops throughout the Commonwealth.  These monies also support the purchase of all field equipment, including heavy vehicles used in road maintenance and fire-fighting.  
In addition, it would further reduce the Commonwealth’s funding for the Gypsy Moth spraying program.
We appreciate the support you have shown to DCNR over the years.  We know you understand what DCNR’s programs and services mean to the citizens of the Commonwealth and to the businesses and industries we support.  I look forward to meeting with you to discuss these matters further and answer any questions you may have.
Related Stories:
Gov. Wolf Proposes New Budget With Little New For The Environment

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