Impact of DEEP budget cuts outlined for state lawmakers

Twenty-seven more positions will be left vacant while overtime, travel and use of state vehicles will be reduced and there will be a longer wait for response to spills and wildlife calls.

In addition, obtaining permits and enforcement of environmental regulations may take longer and local emergency crews may have to handle more incidents as a result of almost $10 million in cuts to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s current budget.

On Monday, DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee met with members of the legislature’s Environment Committee to outline how the agency is absorbing the 14 percent reduction in the funds it receives from the state’s General Fund. Of the agency’s total $178.6 million budget for fiscal 2016, about 37 percent — $61.5 million — will come from the General Fund. The remainder comes from a mix of federal funds, revenues from utilities regulated by DEEP’s energy division, transportation funds and other sources. DEEP originally anticipated receiving $71.3 million in General Fund revenues, but, like all other state agencies, saw deep cuts as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature worked to achieve savings to close a deficit. In fiscal 2014-15, the agency received $70.8 million in General Fund revenues.

In the presentation Monday, Klee reviewed the impact of the cuts. DEEP staff, which numbered 869 in fiscal 2012-13, fell to 836 in 2014-15, and totals 809 employees this year.

Dennis Schain, spokesman for the department, said a total of 60 positions are not being filled as employees have left for other jobs or retired over the last two years.

“We’re realigning staff to focus on our highest priorities,” he said. “We’re going to do whatever we can do that doesn’t jeopardize the environment or public health.”

DEEP previously announced changes to funding for state parks, closing some campgrounds, reducing hours of seasonal employees, shortening days and times some parks are open and curtailing maintenance, among other cuts. Schain said the $1.8 million in parks cuts had to be enacted by July 1, when the start of the season of the largest park expenditures coincides with the greatest public use of parks.

To achieve the $10 million reduction, other cuts will include:

• A 38.6 percent reduction in funding for the Environmental Conservation Division. This includes the Bureau of Natural Resources, which oversees wildlife, fisheries and forest programs; and the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, which covers parks, Environmental Conservation Police and boating.

• A 35.6 percent reduction in funding for the Environmental Quality Division. It includes the section that oversees air quality and monitoring, as well as permitting, enforcement and response to hazardous waste, spills, pesticide use and other functions related to toxic and hazardous substances in the environment. It also includes water protection and land cleanup, wastewater management, clean water initiatives, watershed management and Long Island Sound programs.

• A 25.8 percent reduction in funding for the Bureau of Centralized Services, which covers information technology, human resources, purchasing, contracting and field support for projects at state parks, as well as the commissioner’s office.

As a result of the cuts, local police and fire crews will have to handle more emergency responses to spills, and there will be fewer “lower risk” enforcement actions, according to the commissioner’s presentation to the Environment Committee. DEEP staff will attend fewer community meetings, especially those that take place in the evenings, and report reviews and information requests will take longer. Monitoring and compliance assistance activities will be reduced. Operations at the Kensington fish hatchery will be reduced, and EnCon Police will work fewer hours after Labor Day.

Schain said the Office of Policy and Management has been informed of the planned cuts, and that the commissioner has agreed to continue discussions with Environment Committee members about the impacts.

In an email message to DEEP employees Monday, Klee encouraged staff to “try and maintain a positive spirit” despite the added stresses of the cuts.

“We are still doing important work at DEEP and accomplishing great things for the future of our state,” he said. “I also encourage you to talk with your supervisor if you have ideas or concerns about spending reductions.”

j.benson@theday.com

 

 

 

 

 

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