First came the report last week that OSU Extension has cut 22 county-based jobs as a result of the state budget short fall of $2.7 million. Extension officials further predict that 38 more jobs will need to be eliminated if Gov. Strickland budget is approved for 2010-2011 biennium budget is passed.
Now comes word the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Soil and Water is being “consolidated” with the Division of Water - creating the Division of Soil and Water Resources. The new agency will be under the leadership of Chief David Hanselmann. The Division of Recycling and Litter Prevention will be relocated and aligned with the new Division of Soil and Water Resources, however, will continue to operate as a separate division.
ODNR is taking further steps to disperse the Division of Real Estate and Land Management among several divisions, according to memo sent to the staff. The GIMS program, records retention and delivery services will be managed by Chief Jeff Rowley under the Division of Information Technology. The real estate section (including land acquisition, Fountain Square maintenance, and grounds keeping and fleet) and Environmental Permitting section will be transferred to the Division of Engineering under the leadership of Chief Dave Mohr.
The Division of Parks and Recreation, lead by Chief Dan West, will manage the Recreational Services section. Additionally, the Canal Lands program within the Division of Water will be managed by the Division of Parks and Recreation.
How this will shake out for those in agriculture who deal with these agencies remains to be seen. It does seem to be a plus that Soil and Water remains intact and Hanselmann takes a leadership role in this organization. He is a veteran who has come up through the division and has shown leadership. It does not hurt of course that Soil and Water Districts have a strong grass roots support system at the county level. A politician would be risking the ire of rural Ohio if he attempted to undercut the system that brings millions of federal and county dollars into play through conservation programs.
Expect more news this week as Robert Boggs, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture addresses the budget issue at a press conference Wednesday. While no one in the department is talking about what might be on tap, Gov. Strickland has said there will be new user fees for the agency’s services. Speculation abounds, but the director has hinted that farmers will not be among those paying more.
It remains to be seen what the federal stimulus package might mean for such programs. If we are going to be focusing on rebuilding our infrastructure, there are plenty of conservation projects that could be undertaken such a flood control structures and rural access roads. Meanwhile it is sign of our difficult economic situation that people who have provided help and education for agricultural and rural needs take a hit along with the rest of the populace.