What to know about the deficit facing Des Moines County Conservation

The Des Moines County Conservation Board voted 4-1 on Wednesday to file a program that would have allowed approximately 40 county-owned properties along the Tama Road corridor to be leased.

“This is essentially a closed case,” curatorial director Chris Lee said after the vote. “We are not going to move forward with leasing these properties at this time.”

The only “no” came from Vice President Bob Hansen.

“What bothers me is that the board of trustees has taken over the power to say what the conservation board is doing,” Hansen said, explaining that he thinks land leases should belong to the conservation board, and no to county supervisors.

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The properties were purchased by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the 1993 and 2002 floods and deeded to the county, which then transferred management of these properties to the conservation board.

“No money followed them, so we fence them, walk them, patrol them, watch them. No money, and we end up paying the drainage fee on them, that is, the government taxes government,” said conservation board chairman Jim Garnjobst of the federal tax to be paid from the conservation budget. “We pay these taxes without reimbursement.”

Owner John Archer, who was among about 10 members of the public who attended Wednesday’s conservation board meeting which was moved to Starr’s Cave Nature Center in anticipation of a larger-than-usual turnout, said he understands the idea behind the program and is willing to serve on an advisory committee to find ways to raise money for the conservation service.

A sign marks one of the FEMA buyout properties in Des Moines County that was serviced by a neighboring owner on Wednesday, October 26, 2022, off Edgewater Beach Road.  Under a proposed program, Des Moines County Conservation would lease this lot and similar lots for one to three years.

“This budget issue is going to keep coming up again and again. So in every meeting you can attend, we can use that support, because we seem to be facing a pretty uphill battle here,” said Matthew Haas, member of the conservation advice.

The vote to table the program and the public show of support for additional conservation funding followed a meeting of the oversight board, during which landlords and supervisor Tom Broeker voiced strong opposition to the leases.

The idea for the program was touted as a potential way to generate revenue for the Department of Conservation, which Lee said is operating with a deficit of about $23,000 amid a $100,000 budget cut in the during this exercise.

Lee told the conservation council that the deficit amount is higher than he provided to supervisors on Tuesday due to a bonus cycle that was not included in the previous budget projection and salary line items that were not were not transferred correctly with the transition. from the basic general fund.

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“This is the first year we’ve faced a deficit,” Lee said.

The shortfall comes amid a number of cost-cutting efforts, including the elimination of three of four seasonal positions; replacing a full-time naturalist with a part-time naturalist; defer non-essential maintenance of vehicles, equipment and fleet; reduce travel; remove mowing from Chautauqua Park and convert it to pollinator habitat; eliminate mowing at Waters Park by transferring its ownership to Danville; the closure of Maple Loop Campground at Welter Recreation Area; close the home of Starr’s Cave Nature Center and Preserve; cut the rock budget in half; reduce the uniform allowance by one third; halve the security procurement budget; eliminate publication renewals; cut the marketing budget by two-thirds and not print annual reports.

Nick Adrian and Brandi Lee Dyer, both of Wapello, walk the 3.7 miles of trails at Starr's Cave Nature Center, during the Des Moines County Conservation Summer Celebration Saturday, August 14, 2021 at the center of the nature.  Visitors explored Flint Creek in search of a creature, hiked the nature center's hiking and biking trails while enjoying a lunch provided by Des Moines County Conservation.

Lee told the conservation council that there are several options to make up the shortfall, including asking the county to make up the balance with an additional allocation, covering the shortfall with reserve funds, finding more sources of revenue or making cuts. additional.

Possible cuts include closing Starr’s Cave Nature Center, which would save about $3,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year. This option does not seem likely due to the high demand and range of nature center services.

Other possibilities include closing the Welter Recreation Area completely, which would result in direct cost savings of approximately $4,500 per year, but would likely result in little savings for the remainder of that fiscal year; the closure of Hunt Woods, which Lee says could save $1,000 for the rest of the year; and staff reductions.

Those options will be discussed with county supervisors during a working session on Tuesday.

Lee and members of the conservation board also discussed how much funding the conservation department will need in the future.

Lee said he could get by with an extra $40,000, which would hire a full-time naturalist for summer camps.

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The department’s budget problems are a symptom of differences in ideology between the Conservation Board, which sees it as a duty of conservation to provide services to county residents, and the Board of Supervisors, Broeker having told more of an occasion that the department should operate as a business.

Under Iowa’s code, the county must provide conservation with office space, but has no funding obligation beyond that, although for the county to receive improvement and protection funds from state resources, conservation must obtain at least 22 cents per $1,000 of county tax assessment.

Des Moines County Conservation receives 22.5 cents per $1,000 of assessment for residential properties and 37 cents per $1,000 of assessment for agricultural, commercial, and industrial properties.

Conservation is the only department in the county allowed to retain revenue. Money contributed by other departments goes into the county’s general base fund.

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