Friday, September 8, 2017

Lancaster Conservancy: Plan To Take Back Funds Would Harm Recreation, Clean Water, Farmland Preservation In Lancaster County

By: Philip R. Wenger, President & CEO, Lancaster County Conservancy

The following op-ed appeared in the September 8

Our state budget, passed in June and not funded by the Legislature, has caused severe heart palpitations for the Lancaster County Conservancy, local municipal governments, Lancaster Farmland Trust and other local organizations.
The House Republican proposal, introduced earlier this week, would take back dedicated funds set aside for outdoor recreation, clean water, parks and farmland preservation, and so harm projects and people across Lancaster County.
A case in point is the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund. The Taxpayers’ Budget Working Group proposes to remove $100 million from this fund.
The Keystone Fund is 24 years old and is used to clean our impaired waterways, build trails, help municipalities provide recreation and thus better health for their citizens, and leverage private funds to p rotect natural lands for public use in perpetuity.
The primary source of Keystone Fund monies is the transfer tax on real estate sales, the use of which is restricted by enabling legislation. Money is awarded across the Commonwealth through a competitive grant process administered by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Here is a sampling of some current projects with Keystone Fund financing committed but held until projects are completed: the Northeast Greenway Trail (Lancaster city), Community Park (Paradise Township), Jaycee Park (Manheim Township), Enola Low Grade Trail Safe Harbor Bridge (Manor Township), Long’s Park (Lancaster city), River Park (Columbia), Northwest River Trail (Conoy Township), Elizabethtown Park (Elizabethtown), Snyder Park (Clay Township), A. Herr Park (East Hempfield Township), Denver Memorial Park (Denver) and Lions Park (Warwick Township).
The Republican group claims that large reserves exist and that they only want to access those funds for a short term to fix the deficit. A fix can only be short-term if a realistic long-term plan to balance the state budget has been enacted. But I digress.
Diverting $100 million from the Keystone Fund would severely and negatively impact conservation projects it exists to finance. It takes years, sometimes decades, and many public and private partners to put a grant-funded natural lands preservation project together.
This proposal is akin to using the float on your checking account to increase your income in the short term.
If I take next week’s paycheck to cover this week’s bills, it is financial suicide for a family budget.
It is fiscally irresponsible to operate this way. Not to mention that it is likely illegal t o redirect these funds in the first place.
Here are some important facts about the outdoor recreation business in Pennsylvania. It generates $29.1 billion in consumer spending, $1.9 billion in state and local tax revenue and creates 251,000 jobs.
Investments by the Keystone Fund, Growing Greener, and farmland preservation produce an enormous return for the Commonwealth.
A recent study of the Keystone Fund found that for every $1 invested in land and water conservation, $7 in natural goods and services is returned. Polls of Pennsylvanians show strong and consistent support for protecting rivers and streams, conserving forests, natural lands and wildlife habitat, providing parks and trails and preserving farmland.
That support was at an impressive 97.4 percent in a recent poll.
These projects are critical to business and growth.
At the Lancaster County Conservancy, we receive grants from the Keystone Fund to protect natural areas and provide places for people to hike, hunt, fish and enjoy the outdoors.
We receive grants to spur economic growth around the Susquehanna River. All our lands are protected forever and open to the public, supported with private dollars. The forests we protect clean our air and waterways.
Redirecting Keystone Fund monies, short term or long term, would cripple or bring an end to our land protection efforts and our work with so many partners to preserve our rural landscape, so future generations can live where there are beautiful forests, clean streams and a Lancaster County we can be proud of.
For more information on programs and initiatives, visit the Lancaster County Conservancy website.
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