DIF&W Revenue Short $900,000

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Seven months into this fiscal year, Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s revenue is $900,000 less than expected, and $825,000 less than the agency raised in the same period last year. The state’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.

The department also spent $850,000 more in January of 2012 than it did in January of 2011, although you can’t draw any conclusions from that, because the agency’s monthly spending pattern is erratic from year to year.

We do know for certain that the department has $1.2 million of surplus funds in its carrying account, mostly because dozens of staff positions remain vacant. Some have been vacant for years and will never be filled. They’re maintained on the books to help the agency meet state requirements for savings through attrition.

The revenue shortfall isn’t yet on the legislature’s radar but it may soon be, as the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee has directed Commissioner Chandler Woodcock to bring in a list of his agency’s funding needs, with the intention of using some of the surplus to fund those needs. The committee has already received a list of new funding totaling $650,000 annually for essential things if the Maine Game Plan for Deer is to be fully implemented.

The committee set aside a proposal to give nonresident youth free fishing licenses last week, even though DIF&W supported it, because it would cost the department $65,000 a year. Senator Tom Saviello expressed concern that the department couldn’t find the money in its budget to pay for $900 in equipment needed for the deer plan (they got a grant from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund to pay for the equipment), but was able to absorb a $65,000 loss of revenue to give nonresident kids free fishing licenses. The committee agreed, deciding to look at all the department’s needs, before making a decision on the kid’s proposal.

Now, the committee is sure to take a close at the revenue issue, before dipping too far into the surplus.

For more information on the agency’s financial situation, read my Down East blog posted on Tuesday of this week.

Reorganization

Commissioner Woodcock’s reorganization proposal continues to move slowly forward, but it includes no new funding, a disappointment to many. Because the proposal redefines jobs and moves them around within the agency, it involves a lot of complex changes within the state’s personnel system’s requirements.

That seems to be the primary reason for the delay in the approval and implementation of the reorganization plan, which apparently already has received the governor’s blessing (although I can’t confirm that as the governor and his press secretary refuse to answer any of my questions).

I have a copy of the new reorganization chart and have noted a few things, including the creation of a new coldwater fisheries biologist position and the loss of a game warden in Washington County. It also recreates Andrea Erskine’s old job in the Commissioner’s office. When Andrea accepted the position of Deputy Commissioner, Chandler turned her old job into the new landowner relations position.

Incidentally, many were relieved and pleased when Andrea withdrew her retirement papers at 3 pm on the final day of the year. Her knowledge and experience in many areas, particularly the law-making and rule-making processes, could not have been replaced.

Unfortunately, she is now doing her old job, her new job, and also trying to serve as the Director of the Information and Education Division. Despite the fact we’re in the middle of a critical period at the legislature, where Andrea is the key point person for DIF&W, she was sent to Pennsylvania to staff a booth at that state’s big sportsman’s show for ten days this month – apparently because they had no one else who could take charge of that task.

It was good to see her back at the legislature yesterday.

Information and Education

With vacancies in four key positions, DIF&W’s Information and Education Division is nonfunctioning these days. Since my sister Edie was fired as the I&E Director by the Governor just before Christmas, no one has been interviewed or selected to fill that key job.

Interviews for the media relations position, vacant since Deb Turcotte left for a similar position at the State Housing Authority in November, were completed this week, and a recommendation from the interview committee is headed to Commissioner Woodcock who will have to vet it with the Governor’s staff. No idea how long that might take, but let’s hope they get someone soon.

When the Animal Planet launches its show about Maine game wardens in March, it would be good if the agency had someone in place to take advantage of the publicity the show will receive nationwide.

PHOTOS: DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock and Deputy Commissioner Andrea Erskine.

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