To the Editor:
In response to the newspaper article on March 19, Supervisors Make Cuts to Conservation Budget, and as members of the County Conservation Board, we feel that several issues need to be addressed and clarified. Some of the Board of Supervisors have implied that we, the County Conservation Board, have not been communicating with them.
On January 15 of this year, Director, Art Hampe and the County Conservation Board met with the Supervisors to go over conservation concerns. A 15 page conservation report and budget accountability were reviewed and included summaries on land acquisitions, area development, and conservation education, which triggered a discussion on comparisons to Emmet County Conservation. The Director explained the land management, services, and salary differences between the two counties. The report also included a list of successful grants that the County Conservation Board received. In addition, Helgen Slough and Phelan Woods were gifted to the county. A fact sheet showing the huge economic impact of Iowa's County Conservation amenities, such as parks, campgrounds, trails, and hunting lands was also shared.
The next day, Mr. Noonan requested the Director to meet with him. They discussed conservation matters for four hours.
The Director and the County Conservation Board attended the budget meeting on January 30 with the Supervisors, going over all line items of the budget. Employee job descriptions and duties were discussed. Information was also shared on neighboring county conservation board budgets. When asked about what would happen if the budget was cut or if a position was eliminated, the Director reiterated from a prior meeting, that services would have to be cut, such as, mowing trails and park maintenance. Summer employment would also be cut, in-turn, building projects would not get done. Programs that have been created over the years would be discontinued such as burning, tree planting, and food plots. We feel cutting these programs would be a careless dismissal of public benefits and wildlife habitat that we currently provide. The Director also explained that unforeseen expenses such as storm damage, training, and equipment breakdown has to be absorbed in other areas of the budget.
Law enforcement issues were also discussed. The County Conservation Board feels it is important for our park rangers to have training for their own protection and for liability reasons when responding to calls and when complaints arise within the campground, beach, parks and public areas. The park rangers work with the local DNR during deer season. In response to the law enforcement training for the new park ranger, last year additional money was not allocated, however, the majority of Supervisors stated that it would not be a problem if it could be taken out of our existing budget. A detailed report showing the expenses for law enforcement the past year was also supplied to the Supervisors, as requested. The Palo Alto County Conservation officers have received law enforcement training and certification since 1972.
The Director and County Conservation Board met again with the Supervisors on February 12 to review the conservation budget. Questions on the budget from the Supervisors continued. A motion was made to cut the budget by $10,000. Motion carried. The County Conservation Board reviewed the budget, and the Director sent in a revised budget reflecting the changes.
As mentioned several times in the newspaper article, the Supervisors want better communication between the Boards and additional information on Emmet County comparisons. At the request of the County Conservation Board, an email was sent to each Supervisor offering several dates in March to get together and go over conservation concerns and updates. Only one of the Supervisors responded, however, an email was received back from the Auditor's office that the Supervisors would like to wait until June to meet.
Chapter 350.1 of the Code of Iowa defines the many purposes of the county conservation board system. Conservation boards are authorized to provide the public with parks, preserves, forests, and other natural areas, as well as educational and recreational programs and facilities. Members of the board are selected and appointed on the basis of their demonstrated interest in conservation matters and abilities to serve on a board, and serve without compensation. Professionalism and dedication are also important components of being a board member.
We take pride in our conservation efforts and accomplishments and feel that we have cooperated with the Supervisors. Despite the many challenges we are facing, the County Conservation Board is moving forward. We believe that it is important to stay invested in conservation projects and programs that positively impact our county. Thank you to the Palo Alto County residents for your support.
(signed) Sam Henkelvig, Chair
Gary Hughes, Vice Chair
Darrin Adams, Secretary
Laura Petersen, Board Member
Tony Streit, Board Member