Dean Proposes Natural Resources Budget Increase

01/24/02 12:00AM By John Dillon



(Host)
Governor Howard Dean has proposed a substantial boost to the Agency of Natural Resources budget. The money will not go to new programs. An agency official says that the money is needed to protect existing programs.

The state also wants to increase the fees it imposes on developers in order to prevent job cuts at the agency.

VPR's John Dillon has more.


(Dillon)
There's a serious budget squeeze at the Department of Environmental Conservation, one of three divisions at the Agency of Natural Resources.

At the beginning of this fiscal year, the department faced a projected deficit of about $4 million. That's about 12% of its budget.

Officials saved money by not filling positions when people quit. Governor Howard Dean also has proposed a big boost in next year's budget for the agency.

Department Commissioner Chris Recchia says positions will still need to be eliminated. But Recchia says the people who are working those jobs will be assigned to other areas:

(Recchia) "Even with the governor's $2.3 million, we are looking at further reductions of about seven positions affecting about five different programs┬┐ . That does not mean we will lay these people off; there are other programs where we do have federal funds for supporting programs that are stable and positions available to support those."

(Dillon)
One reason for the budget crisis is that officials miscalculated the amount of federal funds that were available. The department uses federal money for salaries and a variety of programs. And Recchia says different offices mistakenly counted on using the same pot of funds.

(Recchia ) "There was absolutely no intentional discrepancy, but there certainly was some communication problems, that I would say relate to the business office believing money would be available for salaries and the administrators of the program believing that money needed to be obligated for projects outside the department."

(Dillon)
The state has asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency for permission to pay people with money that was previously committed to non-staff expenses. Recchia says if he gets the EPA approval, and if fees are raised and if the governor's budget increase is approved, the programs will not be cut.

He says he hopes to persuade the Legislature to support Dean's proposed budget:

(Recchia) "I think we are showing and can show the legislators the work our staff does and [its] importance to Vermonters. And I expect to do that, and when I present them with all the work that we do and what we would not be able to do, I think they would chose to support the program as well."

(Dillon)
Recchia says even if he's forced to make cuts, the department will not eliminate positions in the storm water program. That office is working on new pollution control procedures for developers.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon.
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