County, Conservation District sever ties

BY STACI WILSON

The Susquehanna County Conservation District and the county are severing ties after failing to reach an agreement on the terms establishing the agencies’ relationship.

While Conservation is an agency separate from the county, the county has staffed the District office paying salaries and county benefits to the workers.

With no agreement on the memorandum of understanding reached, the Susquehanna County Salary Board, on Feb. 13, eliminated the all 11 of the Conservation District positions, effective end of business on June 28.

Members of the Salary Board include the three county commissioners and the county treasurer.

But the agency will continue to operate with employees coming under the direction of its local board of directors.

Commissioner MaryAnn Warren, who also serves as the Commissioner Director on the Conservation District Board, said, “They are their own political subdivision of the state. They can run on their own.”

The Susquehanna Conservation District is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It was established by an agreement between the Susquehanna County Commissioners and the State Conservation Commission in 1947.

She also said that three Conservation District board members were present in the audience of the meeting; and asked that it be documented in the minutes that it was a mutual agreement between the county and the district’s board to sever ties.

Commissioner Alan Hall said the change will “give them total control over their organization.”

Conservation District Director Lillian Theophanis thanked to county for its support over the past 65 years.

She said the district had brought millions of dollars to the county by way of programs and education.

“We will go forward and survive,” she said. “I’m sorry we couldn’t come to a meeting of the minds on the memorandum of understanding.”

Warren said she thought it would be a positive move forward for the Conservation District.

Hall said the two entities could not reach an agreement in two areas: direct control of employees and funding to support salaries.

“We have had our employees working for them,” Hall said.

He said the District board wanted total control of the employees; but because of the employees’ union contracts and health insurance, the county needed to oversee the personnel. County employee health insurance is under the direct supervision of the county commissioners, Hall said.

He also noted that the county had requested the board financially support the employees’ salaries.

Warren, who also serves on the State Conservation Commission, pointed out that there are delegated programs from the state that “we must do.”

“The county had to pick up more and more funding for the delegated programs,” Warren said. “(The state) is not funding what needs to be funded.”

The Susquehanna County Conservation District was allocated about $260,000 in Act 13 monies in 2012.