Conservation District approves $172k budget

Approval followed closed-door session

By Samantha Beal

CLARION NEWS Writer

CLARION

A $197,739 operating budget for 2019 was approved by the Clarion Conservation District Board of Directors at the Feb. 19 meeting.

The budget includes $172,139 in employee expenses and $25,600 in office expenses. The district anticipates a 2019 income of $204,799, which includes a $36,000 allotment from the county.

Clarion County Commissioner Ed Heasley voted against the budget, which was discussed in executive session during the January meeting. The other eight members of the board voted in favor.

It is not clear why the budget was discussed in executive session. State laws regarding open meetings and the Sunshine Law do not allow for closed-door budget discussions. The CLARION NEWS contends the session for budget-planning was improper.

Board chairman George Schmader welcomed Alicia Ramsey as the new Erosion&Sediment/Dirt, Gravel, Low Volume Road technician.

Ramsey was an intern for the conservation district last year and was unanimously approved for the position through an email vote.

"Everyone voted to hire her," said Schmader. "(We) look forward to working with (her)."

"Thank you for the opportunity," said Ramsey.

NRCS renewal

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service District Conservationist Randy Snow attended the meeting to conduct an agreement renewal.

"Annually we're supposed to go over our cooperative working agreement with the district," explained Snow.

He said it may have been sometime since the district renewed its agreement, but he was eager to engage in future projects with the district. Snow reviewed the Civil Rights Act, which is particularly important to USDA.

"I did want to remind (you) district employees are allowed to use our vehicles when it's convenient," added Snow.

He also explained the renewal requires the district to display EEO policy and corresponding materials somewhere in its offices. District manager Trudy Alexander noted the district is located in the Human Services Building and such information is probably displayed.

The board signed an affirmation of review.

Snow reported to the board NRCS is now working under the 2018 farm bill, which will provide funding for four years.

"We don't have the green light yet to work on stuff for this year," he said. "But it will (come)."

District activity

Alexander said she's been working in an E&S capacity while Ramsey transitions into the district.

"I've been fielding a lot of E&S and permit calls, working with engineers and consultants to do the initial reviews," said Alexander.

Alexander noted she's been arranging training for Ramsey in the meantime.

Alexander reported some of the reviews she's been part of are joint reviews with other conservation districts. The Clarion district received a new permit application for a Strattanville waterline replacement. Ramsey will be able to review this with DEP's Northwest Regional office as part of her training.

The district will be reviewing the E&S part of a Columbia Gas line project with Venango's district. Venango will "take the lead" on the project.

"We're getting hit with these pipeline projects," said Alexander. "This is kind of a new thing."

She told the board she isn't sure why pipeline projects have been popping up, but regional districts are encountering them more and more.

Ramsey and Alexander reviewed a waste area connected with Regency Commons on Dolby Street. They didn't find any issues.

Alexander said Ramsey will be working to review this year's township DGLVR projects.

"Our projects this year are mainly drainage," concluded Alexander.

Resource technician Tricia Mazik reported the district received a second Growing Greener grant for $86,000 for the Cook Forest Little Hefren Run project.

"It will be a partnership with DCNR," explained Mazik.

The district's next step is getting an executed contract through DEP.

Mazik asked the board to approve an announcement for an intern this year. She explained the district wants to increase hours for the position as she'll be on maternity leave this spring and Ramsey is still being trained.

The board unanimously approved the announcement.

Upcoming events

The 2019 grazing conference is March 13 and 14 at Trinity Point Church.

The district's annual banquet is tentatively scheduled for May 2.

"We'll revisit that if we have to," said Alexander.

The next district meeting is at 10 a.m. March 19 in the Human Resources Building.