Commission approves new MDC staffing plan to reduce costs

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (MDC) - The Missouri Conservation Commission has approved a staffing plan that significantly reduces expenses for the Conservation Department.

The Commission announced the plan at its meeting Sept. 18 in Hillsboro. The plan focuses on reducing personnel costs compared to other expenses. Conservation Department Director John Hoskins said the plan will help keep the agency on a sound financial footing.

"Like most other agencies and organizations, we are feeling the impacts from this ongoing economic downturn," said Hoskins. "This plan will help ensure our sound financial position during this continuing period of lagging revenues and well into the future."

The Department's two largest revenue sources, the conservation sales tax and permit revenues, have not kept pace with inflation. From 2000 through mid-2009, both permit revenues and conservation sales tax revenue increased less than inflation by double digits.

Revenue from the Department's one-eighth of 1-percent conservation sales tax was $6.4 million lower in Fiscal Year 2009 than the previous year. The decline came on the heels of a $400,000 shrinkage of sales-tax revenues in FY 2008. The new staffing plan is expected to produce annual savings of approximately $7.5 million.

"The fiscal year 2009 decrease was the largest one-year decline in conservation-sales-tax history," Hoskins said. "It also is the first time that conservation-sales-tax revenues have decreased two years in a row."

While revenue reductions have hurt the Conservation Department's recent bottom line, Hoskins said the new staffing plan is not solely a reaction to the economic downturn. It is consistent with the long-term goal of better balancing staffing costs with spending on facilities and services.

"Employee salaries and benefits are most organizations' biggest expenses," said Hoskins. "The staffing plan approved by the Conservation Commission ensures adequate funds allowing continued service to the people of Missouri through delivery of solid conservation services."

The majority of the expense reductions will be achieved by keeping vacant positions unfilled. The Department has been holding 39 full-time positions vacant since early this year. It anticipates another 134 vacancies in full-time positions, largely through retirements, over the next 20 months. The total of 173 vacant positions represents 10.7 percent of the Department's staff.

Hoskins noted that staff and expense reductions will impact some Conservation Department facilities and services. He said the Department is still determining specific changes.

"We have to live within our means just like our fellow Missourians and will continue to deliver our core conservation services," said Hoskins. "That is what we are doing. Thanks to Missouri voters' foresight in providing the conservation sales tax, we still have enough resources to do our job."

The Conservation Department's budget represents less than 1 percent of the State of Missouri's total annual budget.