Lakes Article: DNR
budget long on enforcement, short on services
New fees, warden overtime, fleet
costs all soar
March 27, 2009
the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is taking just a small hit in Gov.
Jim Doyle's proposed 2009-11 state budget, despite a looming $5.7 billion state
deficit, the cuts that do exist, along with shifts in programming priorities,
reflect an administration and agency that desire to focus less on customer service
and more on law enforcement and environmental regulation.
The budget proposes
$584.4 million for the agency in 2009-10 and $579.2 million for 2010-11 - a reduction
of only $2.2 million from the 2007-09 biennial budget.
The blueprint calls
for approximately $75 million in fee increases, reduced services for the general
population, and cuts in grant support for counties, municipalities, non-profits,
and private entities, while holding the line on funding for law enforcement, including
the training and deployment of a new class of conservation wardens with expanded
law enforcement authority.
Gone would be 24 customer service centers. Gone
would be forestry grants to local fire departments. Gone would be the recycling
Clean Sweep program. Gone would be public access grants.
increased would be warden overtime. Created would be a new legal advisor. Increased
would be funding for the agency's vehicle fleet.
Speaking before the Legislature's
Joint Committee on Finance last week, DNR secretary Matt Frank wasted little time
in setting out the department's core objectives.
"Under Gov. Doyle's
budget, we protect key environmental and conservation priorities while cutting
costs, streamlining operations, and making tough choices," Frank said. "There
are no major spending increases for new initiatives in this budget. We hold the
on general hunting and fishing license fees while preserving core wildlife,
fisheries, habitat, and law enforcement activities."
At the top of
the hit list are 24 customer service centers, including the one in Woodruff, where
the DNR will save $3.2 million by ending counter service; such service will be
maintained at the agency's six major regional headquarters, including Rhinelander.
major change proposed in our budget relates to how we provide license sales and
information services to the public," the secretary explained. "Serving
the people of Wisconsin through excellent customer service is an important priority
for the DNR. The budget proposes to close counter service at 24 DNR service centers
statewide, and strengthen our telephone, Internet and private retailer network."
now at the service centers, according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis
of the operations, customers may purchase hunting and fishing licenses, special
hunting tags and stamps, park stickers, nonresident snowmobile trail passes, ATV
trail passes, and bike trail passes, and counter staff processes recreational
vehicle registrations for boats, snowmobiles, and ATVs. The staff also issues
dog-training permits and open burning permits, hands out pamphlets and answers
questions related to DNR regulations and license issues.
All those counter
services would be eliminated, the LFB states.
In addition, Frank said, various
grant programs would be shorn of funding during the biennium.
MFL (Managed Forest Law) Public Access Grant program and Urban Forestry grants
will not receive funds during the biennium," he said. "The Waterways
Commission Access and Urban non-point source grants to municipalities will be
reduced. Recycling efficiency grants and recycling demonstration grants will be
The MFL Public Access Grant Program awards grants to local
units of government, nonprofit organizations and others for acquiring easements
or purchasing land specifically for public access to offset the impact of closed
acreage under the MFL program.
To help shore up the agency's wildlife damage
appropriation account, the DNR proposes to increase the wildlife damage claim
deductible from $250 to $500 and specify that if the amount of the claim is more
than $500 but not more than $5,250, the claimant will be paid 100 percent of the
amount of the claim up to the statutory maximum, the LFB states.
the budget would reduce the maximum amount paid to a claimant from $15,000 to
$10,000 for each claim, according to the budget analysis. In addition, the DNR
plans to transfer $350,000 in 2010-11 from the recycling and renewable energy
fund to the wildlife damage appropriation account.
The wildlife damage claims
and abatement program provides landowners in participating counties with financial
assistance to implement projects to reduce crop damage and to receive reimbursement
from losses due to wildlife crop damage.
The governor would also delete
$1 million annually from the forestry outdoor activities grant program, the LFB
analysis states. The program offers grants to cities, villages, towns, counties,
non-profit conservation organizations, and others to acquire easements or purchase
land for approved outdoor recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking,
sightseeing, and cross-country skiing.
Despite all the cuts, Frank said
the agency would be holding the line in law enforcement and other essential public
"There are no cuts in conservation wardens, and we
intend to deploy a new class of wardens in the field in 2011," he said.
proposed budget provides $178,800 annually for increased warden overtime. In addition,
it would provide $175,000 from the conservation fund in 2009-10 to support an
expected 2010 conservation warden recruit class of eight members.
would cover the costs of recruiting, hiring, and training, as well as costs related
to police certification, the LFB states.
The budget would also create a
new legal position, a chief legal advisor with a price tag of $179,500 a year.
increases include $686,100 each year to pay for increases in vehicle fleet costs,
which, the LFB stated, the DNR reported a 48.5 percent spike for fiscal year 2008-09.
The agency attributed the high increase to a decline in available reserve funds
combined with increasing fleet acquisition, maintenance, and insurance costs.
Fee hikes abound
The proposed budget includes approximately $75 million
in fee increases over the biennium, though none for hunting or fishing licenses.
However, Frank said the motorboat registration fee would rise, as would the tipping
fee for solid waste, even as recycling efforts are trimmed.
motorboat registration increase would raise approximately $2.1 million in the
biennium. The solid waste tipping fee, which is imposed on most waste entering
landfills, excluding high-volume industrial waste, would rise by $4.40 a ton,
from $5.90 to $10.30, raising almost $50 million over the two-year period.
DNR is also proposing to make the $9 per title vehicle environmental impact fee
on vehicle registrations permanent. That fee is scheduled to sunset at the end
of this year.
Some of the fee increases will affect specific business operations,
including proposed hikes in hazardous waste fees and in air operation permit fees.
fee requests include an increase in the wildlife violator compact surcharge from
$5 to $20 to fund a full-time position to oversee Wisconsin's participation in
the compact, which allows the state to track violators who have had their hunting,
fishing, or trapping privileges revoked or suspended in other states.
DNR also recommends increasing the application fee for a bobcat hunting and trapping
permit from $3 to $6, effective March 31, 2010, and an increase in the application
fee for an elk hunting license from $3 to $10. All revenues from those fee increases
would be deposited in the fish and wildlife account of the conservation fund.
increase in the elk hunting license fee came under sharp fire at last week's Joint
Finance hearing, especially from state Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), who called
it a money grab, considering the DNR has yet to conduct an elk hunt.
to the LFB analysis, the agency will consider a hunt only when it determines that
the total elk population is approximately 200 animals; this past spring the number
was put at 150. The DNR estimated the herd could surpass 200 as early as the spring
of 2010, in which case a limited bull-only elk season could take place by December
2010, the LFB stated.
However, the LFB observed, "while very few licenses
would be expected to be available, DNR estimates that more than 20,000 hunters
would apply, generating over $200,000 in annual revenue."
At the Joint
Finance hearing, Frank put the number of actual licenses to be issued at around
five, the Wisconsin Radio Network reported.
Some of the DNR's budget maneuvers
will require changes in the law.
For example, according to the LFB, the
budget would provide $509,500 a year from the transportation fund and delete $514,600
from the general fund to pay for the transport of car-killed deer, even though
current law does not allow the transportation fund to be used for that purpose.
Doyle administration is making a number of legislative proposals to convert appropriations
from the general fund to the transportation fund. Funding for the car-killed deer
removal program would total $1,019,000 annually under the bill, funded equally
between the transportation fund and the fish and wildlife account of the conservation
In other budget matters, with its reauthorized Stewardship program,
the DNR continues to use bonding authority to borrow money for land purchases,
for a total cost this past year of approximately $71 million, when state aid in
lieu of taxes is factored in.
The 2009-11 DNR budget would transfer $2.5
million in debt service payments each year from the general fund, tapping a segregated
forestry account of the conservation fund instead. The forestry account of the
conservation fund already provides the first $13.5 million of funding for debt
service payments each year; that fund would now pay the first $16 million in debt
service on general obligation bonds.
Stewardship debt service costs are
estimated at $48 million in 2009-10 and $54.7 million in 2010-11.
In his testimony before the Joint Finance Committee, Frank said
the budget represented a test for the agency, but he said his dedicated staff
and agency partners would give anchor in the stormy weather.
this is a challenging budget for the DNR, we have two assets that will carry us
through the next several years - our staff and our partners," he said. "Our
DNR staff has proven time and time again that through their dedication we can
successfully achieve our goals - even in challenging times. Our staff is talented,
committed and hardworking. We are fortunate to have such fine public servants
serving the people of Wisconsin."
But, he reminded lawmakers, that
staff has been pruned considerably, including approximately 300 positions the
DNR is temporarily not filling.
"This budget includes a net base reduction
of 85.5 full-time employees for DNR, bringing overall authorized staffing down
from 2,745.5 to 2,660 permanent positions," Frank said. "With the vacancies
we are holding open, our current staffing level is actually closer to 2,350. Despite
the tough economic times, our budget largely avoids making cuts in permanent positions
that provide direct services or mainly conduct field work including wildlife biologists,
wardens, fish specialists, foresters, air quality monitors, water permit reviewers,
And, he said, despite just a net decrease of $2.2 million
over the previous biennium, the overall budget contained significant cost-cutting
and savings measures.
"The DNR budget has ongoing annual base reductions
of $18.9 million, including position cuts and cuts in grant programs," he
told lawmakers. "These reductions are partially offset by increases associated
with cost to continue items, including full funding of staff salaries and increases
related to maintaining programs and priorities like the Great Lakes Compact."
addition, Frank continued, the DNR will lapse $15 million over the biennium, including
the 300 open positions, while maintaining the most substantive services and programs.
maintain funding for other core DNR functions - protecting clean air and clean
water, preserving our forests, and providing outdoor recreation opportunities
for Wisconsin citizens," he said in his testimony. ". . . Over the next
biennium the DNR will continue to play a key role in Gov. Doyle's energy independence
initiative, making Wisconsin a national leader in Climate Change policy, improving
our environment, and growing green jobs."
which have come together as a unit known as the 2009 Conservation Budget Coalition,
have given a mixed reaction to the budget - though in general more positive than
negative - emphasizing some differences of opinion while offering support in other
The coalition includes such groups as 1000 Friends of Wisconsin,
Association of Retired Conservationists, Clean Wisconsin, League of Women Voters
of Wisconsin, River Alliance of Wisconsin, Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter, The
Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited-Wisconsin Chapter, and the Wisconsin Land
and Water Conservation Association.
Among other things, the groups support
the governor's proposed tipping fee increase, but want funding for county conservation
departments restored and increased. They also warned about another of the governor's
long-time proposals, which he again included in the budget: the consolidation
of attorneys in a state Division of Legal Services.
While proponents believe
stripping the DNR and other agencies of their own staff attorneys and making them
request and justify legal assistance to a Division of Legal Services would reduce
aggressive and sometimes overzealous litigation, environmentalists call it bad
"Proper application of complex conservation and environmental
law depends on DNR programs having objective legal counsel who have developed
relationships with staff and have understanding of the law and programs,"
the coalition's March 16 budget memo stated. ". . . Proposed DOA consolidation
authority will hurt DNR's independence, create loss of expertise and institutional
knowledge, and cause conflicts in representation and interests."