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SWCD cuts back as grants dry up

Photo by Sara Hacking Malinda Dexter, manager and weed inspector, along with three other Wadena Soil and Water Conservation District employees, recently had their hours cut due to a budget shortfall.

Employee hours are being cut to four days a week at the Wadena Soil and Water Conservation District due to a lack of grants and a cutback in government support.

Malinda Dexter, manager and weed inspector, said the board of supervisors made the decision Feb. 22 because the SWCD's budget is not in good condition.

"Without grant funding we're going to be considerably short," she said. "So this was our choice."

The SWCD received a grant as a continuation from last year but did not receive three other grants it applied for, said Marvin Runyan, a supervisor with SWCD.

The SWCD gets its funding from Wadena County, the state, its tree program, a no-till grain drill program, a forest stewardship program, and the rest is grant money, Dexter said.

Wadena County cut its allocation to the SWCD by 20 percent in 2009 and that applies to 2010 as well, Dexter said. The state cut some money, as well, and could cut more.

Water Plan funding was cut in 2003 and has never come back, Dexter said, although the county did pick up some of the cost.

The cut in Water Plan funding hurt the SWCD's reserves, Runyan said.

If the SWCD is able to get some grants, they will get back to full-time, Dexter said.

"But until we get some more grant funding coming in, it doesn't look good," she said.

The cut in hours needed to come now or the SWCD would use up its fund balance, Dexter said. There are four employees at the SWCD and they will be staggering their days off, so someone will always be in the office, she said.

The board chose to cut everyone's hours rather than lay one employee off, Runyan said.

Anne Oldakowski is a forestry and education technician. Molly Costin is the feedlot and wetlands technician. And Kari Tomperi is the water resource management technician.