DCNR Secretary Dunn’s Testimony On Special Funds Use At House Appropriations Hearing
DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn submitted this written testimony for the Thursday hearing before the House Appropriations Committee on the use of special funds by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Protection--
Chairman Saylor, Chairman Markosek, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to answer questions about the management of and balances in the Keystone and Environmental Stewardship funds.
Joining me are Deputy Secretary for Conservation and Technical Services Lauren Imgrund, Deputy Secretary for Parks and Forestry John Norbeck, and Director of Administrative Services Stacie Amsler.
The Keystone and Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund dollars provide popular local parks and trails, rehabilitate and maintain our 121 state parks and 2.2 million acres of state forests, and protect critical parcels of natural lands.
Communities all over Pennsylvania compete for these limited funds and match their own local funds to get these projects done.
Removing money from these dedicated funds would mean postponing and cancelling popular projects that help Pennsylvania communities and public lands.
Once designated, whether it’s a new trail, community park, or a state park or forest project, the process of design, competitive bidding, environmental and labor and industry permitting begins.
The length of time to completion is not a reflection of the value of the project. In fact, it’s more of a reflection of what it takes to do a project right with public and donated funds.
Most of the projects -- in communities and on public lands -- require contracts with engineering and construction firms, and result in a significant boost to the local economy and jobs.
A transfer in Keystone and ESF from DCNR would cause a loss of millions of dollars infused into local economies through construction and design jobs, in addition to the loss of essential improvements to our facilities and communities.
When completed, these recreation and conservation projects remain a huge draw for visitors, tourists, residents and businesses. Tourism is critical to Pennsylvania’s economy, and parks and trails are a major reason for visitation and spending.
Some details about how the funds work:
-- These funds come from a portion of the Realty Transfer Tax in the case of Keystone and landfill tipping fees in the case of ESF. The receipts from these sources stay in the fund and are used for the purposes delineated in the enabling legislation.
-- DCNR’s grant program is transparent and competitive – applications are scored and ranked and funding is allocated to ready-to-go projects in score order until the funds available are exhausted.
-- Program demand on the grant side is typically twice the funding available each fiscal year.
-- The funds DCNR receives are programmatically managed on an annual basis. Grant funds approved in any given fiscal year are programmed into that year’s grant round and used to fund the grants announced in that year. This year’s announcement of 266 grants was December 5.
-- When announced, the funds are not contracted yet but they are listed as “pre-committed” in the SAP financial system that the executive branch uses.
-- Most grants contracts are written for four years to permit time for design, permitting, bidding, construction, inspection and closeout. As such, at any given point in time there are four years of funding being managed on contracted projects.
-- In general, upon notification of their grant award, grantees are encouraged to submit a request for up to 50 percent of the grant award.
-- Additional funds require that certain thresholds be met with signed professional service or construction contracts, or incurred costs.
-- What is seen as available balances does not reflect financial commitments on contracted projects and projects that are being contracted.
-- Returned funds are reprogrammed for amendments for projects that are bid and are more expensive than anticipated or used for other projects that are ready to go and rank well.
Related to our public lands, state park and forest infrastructure is aging, much of it passing 50 years old. The era of park and forest-district building in the ‘60s and ‘70s is now requiring serious maintenance to remain safe and usable.
DCNR once had a major maintenance fund that was eliminated when budgets were tight in 2007-2010. Now DCNR relies on a combination of capital spending and Keystone and ESF funds to do all of this major maintenance. If not for the Keystone and ESF funds, we would need to rely even more on General Fund dollars.
Although there is great value in the conservation of beautiful spaces for wildlife habitat and places for healthy play outdoors, our local and state parks, and state forests are so much more:
-- The close to 40-million visits to Pennsylvania state parks each year generate more than $1 billion in economic activity.
-- For every dollar invested in state parks, more than $12 of value-added income is returned to the Commonwealth.
-- State forests provide a steady supply of quality timber to the market, supporting thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania’s $17 billion wood products industries.
-- Pennsylvania has more than 6,000 local parks, many of which have been supported through DCNR grants that leverage twice their amount in private dollars, and local park-related spending creates $1.6 billion annually in economic activity.
-- Trails also have impact, with $40 million in revenue each year generated by the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage – just one of the many fantastic trails in the state.
-- The economic impact of the contracts through DCNR grants and infrastructure projects are hugely important to communities, especially in some of the rural areas where our parks and forest districts literally anchor the local economy.
DCNR has supported grant projects in hundreds of communities and all 67 counties, and provides a state park or forest within 25 miles of every Pennsylvanian.
A proposal to take away Keystone and ESF funds would jeopardize more than 900 community conservation and recreation grants, and much of our major maintenance funds for infrastructure projects, continuing to kick the can down the road on the maintenance of our award-winning state park and forest systems.
The value of parks, trails, river access and natural spaces to make our communities and state places were people want to live, visit and work is well known, and it’s what our citizens want.
It was the taxpayers of Pennsylvania who voted in overwhelming numbers for dedicated conservation funds. The Keystone Fund was established in 1993 with an overwhelmingly approved voter referendum, a 48-0 vote in the Pennsylvania Senate and a 196-3 vote in the House.
How we spend the money we have should continue to be evaluated. The department provides an annual report on the use of the Keystone Fund to the General Assembly every year.
DCNR continues to look for ways to operate efficiently, and make the best use of our staff and resources.
For example, we have an ongoing effort to audit our energy use in parks and forests and replace high-energy infrastructure with low-energy and low-water systems that save energy and save money.
Using Guaranteed Energy Savings Act (GESA) funding, we will see significant savings in a few years on our entire state parks and forest systems that more than pay for the upgrades.
We should not jeopardize ongoing efforts overwhelmingly supported by the public to create communities where people want to live and work; protect our water and health; and conserve our natural places.
For more information on state parks and forests and recreation in Pennsylvania, visit DCNR’s website, Click Here to sign up for the Resource newsletter, Visit the Good Natured DCNR Blog, Click Here for upcoming events, Click Here to hook up with DCNR on other social media-- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.
[Posted: Jan. 25, 2018]
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