STANTON — Animals, conservation, 4-H, parks and veterans.
These five topics may not share the same audience or interest in Montcalm County, but they all have one common need: Funding.
Montcalm Conservation District officials have been discussing their organization’s uncertain future for some time now, and the similar issues of Animal Control, 4-H and county parks and veterans gradually entered the conversation.
Steve Wyckoff, a Montcalm Conservation District director, is now heading up a grassroots effort to gauge whether the Montcalm County community is interested in and would support a millage proposal to fund these five services.
A community meeting is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Montcalm Conservation District office at 77 S. State St. in Stanton to discuss the topic further.
“We don’t have a good handle on our daily operations from year to year,” said Wyckoff about the conservation district. “That’s what prompted our exploration of a possible millage request. If we don’t have a stable source of income, we have maybe three years to keep our doors open.
“What we’re exploring for this millage is trying to continue providing programs and hopefully expand upon those programs to help the quality of life here in Montcalm County for our folks,” he said. “We need to find sources of revenue other than from the general fund of the county.”
The Montcalm Conservation District was established in 1948 and offers a variety of local services, including managing PA 116 contracts (a farmland and open space preservation program); answering natural resource questions or directing clients to proper agencies; distributing soil surveys; managing the Comden Towle Model Forest near Entrican; and general education and outreach, such as field trips and career showcases for local youths. The conservation district also offers a Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program technician to provide on-site assistance to farms, as well as a forester to provide on-site assistance to landowners.
Although the conservation district is a state agency, it only receives funding through donations from local townships and the county, as well as through an annual tree sale. This year, the conservation district did not receive any funding from the county due to county budget issues.
Here’s a look at how the four other considered organizations have been struggling financially:
• Montcalm County Animal Control is down to two employees after county budget cuts.
• Montcalm County’s 4-H program and multiple clubs are being coordinated by a part-time director.
• Four of Montcalm County parks are in danger of closing due to budget cuts to the county’s maintenance department.
• Funding for local veterans is being reduced after the Attorney General issued an opinion that counties are not authorized to levy any additional millage for veterans.
“A local official said to me, ‘People in Montcalm County like to talk about things, but they never do anything.’ Well, that was a challenge to me,” Wyckoff recalled. “We’re looking for grassroots community input in this to see if it’s worth doing this.
The millage exploration effort came up during a Montcalm County Board of Commissioners meeting in December, after the county’s Parks & Recreation Commission recommended the full board send Commissioner Betty Kellenberger as a representative to the Jan. 18 community meeting. The full board voted 7-2 to do so, with Commissioners Patrick Q. Carr and Tom Lindeman voting “no.”
“I don’t know anything about this millage exploration committee or for our board to take action on something I’ve never heard of today until I read these minutes,” said Carr, explaining his vote.
For more information about the Jan. 18 community meeting, call the Montcalm Conservation District office at (989) 831-4606.