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Soil and Water Conservation District

March 19, 2019 - 12:23pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Soil and Water Conservation District, news, notify.
img_4442bradsoilater2019.jpg
   Brad Mudrzynski

The job of Soil and Water Conservative, District Manager Brad Mudrzynski, told the Public Service Committee on Monday during a department review, is pretty straightforward at its most basic: Keep soil healthy; keep it on dry land; keep it out of water, so water is kept clean.

Mudrzynski became the director in January, the second since George Squires retired a couple of years ago after 31 years of service to the county, but Mudrzynski, who is from Elba, said the district has continued to operate without missing a beat.

Genesee County's soil and water district was established in 1944. Every county in the state has a soil and water district. The county budgets about $150,000 annually to fund the district. That pays for personnel, currently four full-time staffers and one part-time employee, and it's up to the district to apply for grants and aid to fund its programs.

"We have a good core," Mudrzynski said. "I hope I get to keep my core because they are really good people. They all know what they're doing."

The current staff is Molly Cassatt, a technician (the former director who volunteered to change rolls), Bob Berkemeier, senior technician, Tim Welch, technician, and Laura Bestehorn, clerk-treasuer.

In Genesee County, most programs are focused on agriculture but the agency also works with municipalities. For example, soil and water is using a $6,000 state grant to fund a hydroseeding program with the towns.

Hydroseeding, rather than just spreading grass seed on the ground, helps prevent runoff and soil erosion.

Other programs and services include tree and shrub planting, fish stocking, an Envirothon, recycling events, permit assistance, guidance for invasive species control, and erosion control design.

In 2018, the district secured nine grants worth $1.2 million.

Mudrzynski said soil and water districts are unique in the state because they operate as quasi-state agencies but with local control, which makes them more nimble and responsive to local needs.

April 22, 2011 - 1:14pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Gardening, Soil and Water Conservation District.

The Genesee County Soil & Water Conservation District is holding a tree and native plant sale at the fairgrounds today and tomorrow.

Most of the plants were pre-sold, but there are seedlings still available as well as flower seeds, bird feeders and bird houses.

The sale runs until 6 p.m. today and from 8:30 a.m. to noon tomorrow.

Above, George Squires, left, helps Charles Bartlett of Darien with his pine tree order. Below, Cindy Smith arranges some of the native plants that have been sold.

December 1, 2010 - 8:51pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Soil and Water Conservation District.

In one of the other budget stories we've been tracking -- besides Genesee Justice -- funding for the Soil and Water Conservation District will remain level.

The 15-percent expenditure cut which local farm leaders said would cripple the district will be covered by a fund balance (money in the bank) the district has available.

With the fund balance transfer, the district's 2011 funding will be the same as 2010, County Manager Jay Gsell told the legislature this evening.

The proposal must still be approved by the legislature when it meets Dec. 8.

November 30, 2010 - 11:57am

The Genesee County Legislature will meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the 2011 budget for the final time, with decisions before them that will have consequences for the local economy and civic environment for years to come.

Top on the agenda is what becomes of Genesee Justice.

countybudget03a.jpgCounty Manager Jay Gsell's preliminary budget called for eliminating seven Genesee Justice jobs and creating three new staff positions in the Probation Department, with probation taking over most of the pioneering restorative justice program's functions.

All of the county's top justice system experts -- including District Attorney Lawrence Friedman, Sheriff Gary Maha and Public Defender Gary Horton (inset picture) -- have lobbied to save Genesee Justice.

The experts say Genesee Justice has saved the county millions of dollars because many people who might otherwise be incarcerated are carefully supervised by Genesee Justice. The loss of Genesee Justice could mean that in a few years Genesee County will need to build a new jail at a cost of up to $30 million.

County officials, however, say these are dire economic times and costs need to be cut and taxes can't be raised. The county needs to trim about $7.5 million from its initial spending plan for 2011.

For years, Genesee Justice was funded entirely by grants, but over the years some those grants have dried up and local taxpayers must pick up about $237,000 of the operational costs of Genesee Justice.

Gsell plans to save that money, figuring that probation can assume the key functions of Genesee Justice.

"We know what services Genesee Justice delivers and we know how it is delivered," Gsell said for a previous story. "What we're looking at is how can we deliver that same level of service to the community through the Probation Department."

Julie Smith, probation director, said her department can assume the services and still help keep down the population level of the jail.

For example, Smith said, probation handled the release-under-supervision program for 26 years before handing it off to Genesee Justice in 2006.

Maha warned, however, that in neighboring counties, where there are no programs like Genesee Justice, the counties struggle with their jail populations.

"If the jail population increases, the State Commission of Correction will come down and tell us to do something about our increased population -- like build a new jail or put on an addition," Maha said. "We'll be like our neighbors to our south who had to build a jail addition to address their jail population."

Besides Genesee Justice, the legislature needs to decide what to do with the Soil and Water Conservation District, which is facing a 15-percent expense cut.

The cut, local farm leaders say, could end many vital services Soil and Water provides to farmers, helping keep them in business in a tough economic and regulatory environment.

"(The cut) would be a real detriment to the agriculture industry in Genesee County," said Brad Rodgers, chairman of the Soil and Water board of directors. "Even level funding would hurt us."

Scott Page, president of the Genesee County Farm Bureau, believes keeping Soil and Water is critical to protecting Genesee County's economic base.

"If we hurt ag, we miss an opportunity to move forward," said Page. "The more we build off our agricultural base, the better the local economy will do."

The conference meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday will not include a public comment period, but the session at the Old Courthouse is open to the public.

Following the conference meeting, the Ways and Means Committee will convene. Final budget amendments will be voted at that time, which are recommendations for the full legislature to consider. The full legislature will vote on the final 2011 county budget Dec. 8.

November 23, 2010 - 8:27pm

dalestein_manudust.jpg

In a long conversation today about the need for the Soil and Water Conservation District in Genesee County, Le Roy dairy farmer Dale Stein didn't once complain about an increasingly demanding Environmental Protection Agency.

He just said "Farmers need help."

That help has come for years from the Soil and Water District. Staff members have the expertise to help farmers comply with regulations that protect the land, air and water.

"All of us want to live in a good environment," Stein said. "But we can't do it on our own."

After our talk, Stein walked me across the street, through the mud and over a plank bridge that spans a cement trough, a little creek if you will, of liquid manure.

manudust.jpgThe manure is fed into a new $170,000 machine that pulls out the solids, drys it, mashes it up and sends it out a conveyor belt into a big pile in a new storage building.

Sawdust, which has served as bedding for cows for decades or longer, is getting expensive, Stein said. Increasingly, it's used in recycled products, which drives the cost up for farmers.

Now, Stein's cows sleep on their own processed manure.

"The cows love it," Stein said. "It's soft and fluffy."

Surprisingly, it has no discernible odor.

The environmentally friendly process was driven as much by federal guidelines to reduce his manure waste as it was by economics.

After a 30-percent federal grant to help pay for the project, Stein said the savings on sawdust purchasing will pay for the operation inside of two years.

Without the help of Soil and Water technicians, Stein said, the project would been a lot harder to pull off. They help identify issues on his farm that might run afoul of regulations, find the right solutions, help secure grants to pay for the projects and then ensure the project is completed within federal or state guidelines.

No farmer, Stein said, has that kind of expertise.

These are tough times, though, and the Genesee County Legislature wants to balance the county's $140.5 million budget without raising property taxes. At the same time, more than 80 percent of the county's revenue is tied up in covering the expense of unfunded mandates.

So, where the county can cut, officials are looking at deep cuts.

scottpage.jpgFor the Soil and Water District, that means a 15-percent reduction -- $26,000 -- in the county's $170,000 allocation.

With the budget cut, there will be at least one less staff member in the district, according to Brad Rodgers, chairman of the Soil and Water board of directors.

"(The cut) would be a real detriment to the agriculture industry in Genesee County," said Rogers. "Even level funding would hurt us."

Scott Page, president of the Genesee County Farm Bureau, believes keeping Soil and Water is critical to protecting Genesee County's economic base.

"If we hurt ag, we miss an opportunity to move forward," said Page. "The more we build off our agricultural base, the better the local economy will do."

Page said his family has been dairy farmers in Le Roy for 50 years, and he's seen the regulations get tighter and more technical. While he doesn't think they are entirely necessary ("What farmer doesn't want to care for his animals?" he says), there is just no way the typical Genesee County farmer can keep abreast of all the regulations without experts to lead the way, he said.

Although Stein's manure recycling project has a direct economic benefit to his business, complying with many of the state and federal regulations adds nothing to the bottom line.

"It's tough for a farmer to lay aside that kind of money for something that is not going to generate profit," Page said.

Banks don't want to loan farmers money to undertake projects that often cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Banks are only willing to help, Stein said, because there are federal grants available to pay from 30 to 70 percent of a project's cost.

And it takes Soil and Water experts to help a farmer through the application process.

"We have a good Soil and Water program," Stein said. "But we will start losing farms in this county pretty quickly due to these regulations without help."

Photos: Top, Dale Stein in front of a pile of manure dust; inset, Stein holding a handful of processed manure; bottom inset, Scott Page.

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