SUNBURY - Funding for state conservation districts is expected to increase by more than $2 million over the next three years, state Sen. John R. Gordner (R-27) told those attending the Northumberland County Conservation District (NCCD) Legislative Luncheon Thursday.

Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget and the impact on conservation efforts was the focus of much of the annual gathering, held at the district headquarters along Plum Creek Road in Rockefeller Township and attended by about 25 people.

The budget calls for the elimination of this fiscal year's $2.8 million allocation to state conservation districts, which concerned many people, including Judy Becker, NCCD manager.

While Gordner said he is not "optimistic" the districts' separate line item funding would return due to negative projections for the second half of the fiscal year, he said there would be an additional $2.6 million by fiscal year 2015-16 from Act 13 natural gas drilling impact fees.

Furthermore, he said, each district would be eligible for additional funding based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which means they would be compensated for changes in the price of consumer goods and services purchased by the district.

State Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver (R-108) noted later in the meeting that such a move shows the state "has great faith in you."

"We don't do that for very many people," she said.

Becker thanked the three legislators - Gordner, Culver and state Rep. Kurt Masser (R-107) - for supporting the conservation districts.

"We greatly appreciate you. We realize funding is limited," she said.

'County still supports us'

Gordner explained that fiscal year 2012-13 is the only budget that will include both the line item funding and the impact fees, which allowed a total of $6.3 million to go to conservation districts across the state.

Last fall, $2.5 million in Act 13 monies was available. Of that amount, $1.25 million was divided equally between the 66 county conservation districts in the amount of $18,939 and $1.25 million was directed to the State Conservation Commission, which used 50 percent of the money to divide equally to the districts in the amount of $9,469.

It is expected for the upcoming 2013-14 budget, which will be the first budget without the line item, that the total funding from the impact fees will be less than the previous year, at a total of $5 million. If the distribution follows the previous year, each districts will receive $38,000 each by July 1, 2013, from the PUC and $19,000 from the commission.

The statewide distribution is expected to increase to $7.5 million in 2014-15 and $7.6 million by 2015-16, Gordner said.

Becker said NCCD's 2012-13 budget consisted of $539,488 from the state, impact fees and various grants; $108,244 from Northumberland County and $50,345 in revenue generated by the district through an annual membership drive and tree sale, permitting and construction activities.

Becker said that for every dollar the county contributes to conservation, the county receives $6.45 in return.

"Our county still supports us. We're seeing other counties stopping their support of the conservation districts," she said.

Process not easy

Gordner, who has already visited conservation districts in Columbia County and Snyder County, told NCCD employees and board members that he appreciates what they do.

Culver also said she recognized the amount of good the conservation districts do for their counties, but noted the budget process is not easy.

The legislators will continue to fight, she said.

Masser said he feels a special bond with the conservation district since he was frequently involved during his time as county commissioner and often identifies the state funding for the district once the state budget is proposed.

"You're important. What you do, you do in a conservative way. The money is spent wisely," he said.

Other individuals who provided comment included Northumberland County Commissioner Richard Shoch, Northumberland County Planning Department Director Pat Mack and Pennsylvania Conservation District Executive Director Robert Maiden.

Dave Crowl, NCCD Board chairman, was the master of ceremonies for the lunch.

The state legislators also presented a $365,000 Growing Greener Grant to the district at the end of the meeting. The grant was announced in late February.

Growing Greener is the single largest investment of state funds in Pennsylvania's history to address the critical existing environmental concerns of the 21st century. DEP is authorized to allocate funds in grants for watershed restoration and protection, abandoned mine reclamation and abandoned oil and gas well plugging projects.MIKE STAUGAITIS/Staff Photo