Down nearly $80,000 because of Valencia County budgetary problems, the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District and Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service are joining forces to keep the extension service’s doors open and to enhance programs provided by the conservation district.
The conservation district is asking property owners in Valencia County to support a mill levy to provide funds for the two groups’ programs. Voting on the mill levy question will be June 18.
“Because of the problems the county is having with its finances, we decided we needed to find a way to support ourselves,” said Dale Jones, vice chair of the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District.
“There have been a lot of volunteer donations to keep the extension service operating. But that is a short-term fix, not long-term. We decided, by passing a mill levy, to provide the local portion of its costs for the next two years, while the county gets back on its feet.”
The county is required to provide one-third of the county extension service’s budget in addition to funding from the federal and state governments.
When the Valencia County Commission found itself in financial difficulties, it cut from its budget $67,000 for the extension service and $12,000 for the conservation district.
“We are asking the community to pass the 10-year levy. By law, we could ask for a full mill levy, but we decided our program needs can be met with half a mill,” Jones said.
Half of a mill on property with $100,000 market value, which has an assessed value of $33,000, will be $16 a year.
Because of state statutes, farm crop land’s taxable value is $465 per acre with an assessed value of $155 per acre; the half mill levy tax would be approximately 7 cents per acre.
“We are guessing it will average $10 a year for the average property owner,” Jones said.
The conservation district and extension service estimate they will raise $360,000 annually from the mill levy, which will be budgeted to include $80,000 for the extension service programs, $165,000 for farmland projects, $75,000 for open space and urban projects, and $40,000 for personnel costs.
“We plan to cover all of the extension service’s costs for two years, then drop off by 25 percent for the next three years. We don’t want this to be a forever deal,” said Jones.
Besides paying for the extension service, the levy will provide funds for the conservancy district’s programs to encourage and promote soil and water conservation as well as the wise use and care of all natural resources.
“Without the county funds, our budget has been reduced by half,” Jones said. “If the mill levy passes, we can continue and even expand our program to assist the landowners of Valencia County.”
Conservation programs include helping farmers to make their irrigation efficient, remove aggressive weeds that are displacing native plants, and protect their farmland.
“The seven-member board approves grants to land owners to help with conservation projects,” Jones said. “Projects such as leveling their land so irrigation water flows better and conserves water. Or replacing earthen ditches with cement-lined ditches to prevent water loss to weeds and gophers.”
With passage of the mill levy, Jones said, the board would be able to increase the portion of the cost share of projects from 50-50 to 75-25.
“We plan to provide assistance to landowners to protect their fields from excessive damage from migrating sandhill cranes,” he said.
Other projects supported by the conservation district help protect the greenbelt along the Rio Grande.
The district’s work also impacts open space and urban areas with bosque restoration, open space projects and nature trails.
“With the mill levy money, we can complete a plan to connect the valley from Bosque Farms to Belen with a trail system for a variety of users,” Jones said. “We want to assist in creating a bosque that is healthy and provides for both human and wildlife needs.
“Our goal is to provide Valencia County with the best service possible at a time when water issues and expanding urban growth are at the forefront of factors affecting the area.”
Such an optimistic conservation program cannot be completed overnight, according to Jones. “But with the mill levy funds, time and matching federal dollars, Valencia County can become a proud place to live.”