12/9/2010: LCHIP Needs to be Seen as an Investment [link no longer works] (The Citizen of Laconia editorial)
On March 17, 2010 the House Finance Committee recommended to the full House that it pass a spending reduction bill that includes a raid on much of what remains in New Hampshire's Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP). The bill proposes to take $1 million from LCHIP, leaving a balance of $721,000 for use in project funding in the fiscal year 2011. This is in addition to the raid that occurred in June 2009, when the biennial budget passed for FY 2011 took 50% of the projected revenues from the dedicated fund appropriated for LCHIP and re-allocated these dollars to the State's general fund.
"The Forest Society is profoundly disappointed that the state legislature is proposing to raid the dedicated fund for the Land & Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP)," said President/Forester Jane Difley. "We recognize the extremely difficult financial situation facing the state, but to use these fees to fund general state government would be at best misleading. The legislature shouldn't deceive the people of New Hampshire who've been told that when they pay this fee they are supporting conservation and historic preservation, not general state government," Difley said. "Interestingly, of the more than 200 dedicated funds that exist, LCHIP is the only one to be directed away from its legal purpose. Though the amount of money raised by the LCHIP fee is small compared to the overall budget, the principle at stake is huge."
FIRST In November 2008 the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee rescinded $3.5 million from LCHIP existing funds at that time to address a growing general fund gap developing due to the collapsing economy. The Governor and the Legislature had approved a biennial budget for LCHIP of $12 million in June of 2007 for the two fiscal years starting July 1, 2007. LCHIP fund of $6 million for FY08 would come from the general fund, and in FY09 an estimated $6 million would come from the new dedicated fund, with revenues coming from the $25 fee on all deeds and mortgages recorded at each of the State's ten registries of deeds. As the economy tanked, so did the actual revenues collected by the deed fee.
SECOND A 50% raid on the FY 2011 projected revenues from the dedicated deed fee fund when the House and Senate adopted the biennial for Fiscal Year 2010 and 2011 budget on June 24, 2009; specifically, the two year budget left the FY 2010 LCHIP appropriation (of dedicated fund revenues estimated at $4.5 million) in place and redirected 50% of its 2011 dedicated fund revenue to the general fund. In January of 2009 the Governor's budget proposal honored the original commitment of $12 million for LCHIP for the biennium ($6 million a year), leaving LCHIP's dedicated funding source intact. The House's version of the budget also preserved LCHIP's dedicated funding intact. Unfortunately, the Senate version of the budget included a proposed 50% raid of LCHIP's dedicated fund in both years of the biennium. During final committee of conference negotiations in June 2009, the House and Senate negotiators agreed to meet in the middle and divert 50% the dedicated fund revenue in the second year only (the fiscal year starting July 1, 2010).
THIRD If the House Finance Committee recommendation passed March 17, 2010 survives the full House and Senate, and is signed into law by the Governor, the FY11 appropriation (already reduced by 50% in June 2009) will be the target of another raid of $1 million, leaving a balance of $721,000 in the LCHIP fund for FY 2011.
LCHIP was created by the legislature in 2000 to spur public and private investment in the conservation of the state's most important natural and historic resources. To date, LCHIP has awarded grants to 107 communities throughout the state, helping to protect 220,000 acres of land, and preserve 88 historic structures. Every $1 invested by LCHIP has leveraged another $5.79 in other local, private, and federal funds.
Conserving Kearsarge Gore Farm
For 20 years Bob Bowers and Jennifer Ohler have been working hard to sustain themselves while stewarding their 471-acre farm in Warner and Sutton. And they have succeeded, becoming the second-largest farm in Warner with four full-time employees.
Like Granite State farmers of old, Bowers and Ohler have done it by raising and marketing a broad array of farm products. From their Kearsarge Gore Farm, they market their certified-organic vegetables to New Hampshire consumers as far away as Manchester, supply the large Concord-based Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation, and ply their produce at the local Warner farmer's market. They sell organically-raised meats (beef, lamb, chicken and pork), honey, hay, maple syrup, and dozens of cords of firewood every year.
Not only that, their son Sam is currently enrolled in the Thompson School at UNH and has in mind to be the next generation to work the farm. Thanks in large part to the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP), the open fields, agricultural fields, and managed woodlands that constitute the farm will still be there for Sam to pursue his dream and continue supplying central New Hampshire residents with locally grown food and wood.
Instead of selling the farm, Bowers and Ohler have chosen to sell a conservation easement. That way the land will be protected and can continue as a productive working farm for future generations while providing capital for reinvestment. Recognizing the inherent public value in maintaining our agricultural base, the Town of Warner applied to LCHIP for a matching grant. With the $138,250 LCHIP grant in place, the Forest Society worked to attract more than $40,000 in federal funds to support the project. Then at Town Meeting last week, voters in both the Towns of Warner and Sutton agreed to invest local conservation funds. One or more corporate grants may complete the funding this spring.
"This is a perfect example of how land and forests yield food and heat, along with positive impact on the local economy," said Jane Difley, president/forester of the Forest Society. "It's also an example of how a modest investment in conserving land can ensure that we'll always have the farms and forests we rely on right here in New Hampshire."
LCHIP Budget Cut, Dedicated Funding Challenged
On Friday, February 22nd, Governor John Lynch and the New Hampshire Legislature's Joint Fiscal Committee rescinded $500,000 of the current fund balance at the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP). The cut was part of a $50 million budget reduction initiative for the state's current fiscal year. LCHIP does not believe the recision will require the program to eliminate or reduce any grants awarded in its most recent grant cycle, but it is $500,000 less than LCHIP would otherwise have available in overall program funding.
The two year budget adopted last June funded LCHIP at $12 million, $6 million in general funds for the current budget year and up to $6 million in the next budget year to come from a dedicated funding source. This dedicated funding source for LCHIP is a fee assessed on recording of documents at the ten state registries of deeds, and collection of the fee is scheduled to begin July 1, 2008. Unfortunately, bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate to repeal this dedicated fund before collection even begins. The Forest Society is actively opposing these bills (HB 1547 and SB 304) and encourages our members to contact their state representatives and ask them to vote against repealing the dedicated fund.
To get information on how to contact your State Representatives and State Senator, click here.
For more information on LCHIP funding and current legislation, call or email Chris Wells, Director of Policy at (603) 224-9945, .
Please see this press release for the latest information.