Upper Delaware Council (UDC), charged with the oversight of the plan approved by Congress to protect the Upper Delaware River’s cherished resources, is facing a budget crisis.
NARROWSBURG, NY - Upper Delaware Council (UDC), charged with the oversight of the plan approved by Congress to protect the Upper Delaware River’s cherished resources, is facing a budget crisis. Already facing potential closure due to a delay in its full, annual federal appropriation, the UDC is reaching out to the Governors of Pennsylvania and New York to finally make good on their fiscal obligation.
A lengthy discussion took place at the monthly meeting of the UDC, July 6th at the offices in Narrowsburg. Executive Director, Laurie Ramie, reminded that the UDC will have to shut down if the postponed federal allocation is not forthcoming by the end of the current fiscal year on September 30. Since its inception in 1988, the federal government has provided $300,000 a year, a rate that has never changed in nearly three decades. This year, however, the UDC is forced to use its unrestricted funds, anxiously awaiting reimbursement. Meanwhile, the same agreement that created the UDC required the two states to each contribute $100,000 a year. That has never happened.
Governors to get letters
Letters approved that evening to be sent to the two governors remind them of their respective state’s failure to contribute its 20% share of operating aid called for the Final 1986 River Management Plan for the Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River: New York and Pennsylvania. Each of the states are voting members of the UDC, a non-profit organization, and send representatives to the meetings.
Around the UDC table are delegates representing five Pennsylvania townships (in Pike and Wayne counties) and 14 New York towns (from Orange, Sullivan and Delaware counties) that border the Upper Delaware River; the two states and the Delaware River Basin Commission. Also represented is the National Park Service, which participates as a fully cooperating federal agency.
Due to the flat level federal funding, lack of state funding and an exponential increase in expenses to operate, the UDC has had to cut programs, services and staff. The letters note that the UDC is still responsible for over 60 tasks assigned to it by the River Management Plan in the areas of land use planning, project reviews, river recreation issues, water use management, natural and cultural resources, fish and wildlife, unique land resources, threatened and endangered species, economic development and tourism, pollution control and abatement, education, technical assistance and public engagement.
Currently, the UDC has been unable to assess its $127,890 balance in their fiscal year 2017 federal funds, attributed to a U.S. Department of the Interior internal review ordered for all existing Cooperative Agreements and federal grants valued at $100,000 and more. “This amplifies the hardship of having to rely on a single source of income that is based on a monthly reimbursement procedure with no budgetary carry-over options,” the letters signed by UDC Chairman James Greier states.
The federal allocation is funneled by way of a Cooperative Agreement, from the Department of the Interior. The Department oversees the National Park Service.
The Northeast Region financial division of the Park Service indicated to the UDC that they are prepared to honor their commitment that they originally made and release the funds owed on the Cooperative Agreement, contingent on the review.
At the Operations Committee, June 27, it was noted that some current programs might not be funded. UDC Chairman Greier added that they would not be in this predicament if the states fulfilled their commitment spelled out in the River Management Plan. Ramie advised that they broaden their scope and get other voices to speak on the UDC’s behalf. A letter was authorized to be sent to the member townships/towns to advocate for the UDC.
Ramie told the Council that she has had a most helpful response from U.S. Congressman Joseph Faso (NYS-19th). Faso’s staff has sent a letter of inquiry to the Department of the Interior and will follow it up with a phone call.
Congressman Tom Marino (PA- 10th), however, had so far not responded. Ramie said she was only able to reach the receptionist and leave a message.
A suggestion was made to ask PA Senator Lisa Baker to send a message to Rep. Marino. On the New York side, State Senator John Bonacic sent a helpful letter to Congressman Faso, asking for support for the UDC’s request for release the remainder of the federal allocation. A call was also received from Senator Patrick Maloney’s office asking for more information.
Meanwhile, the UDC must plan on the fiscal year 2018 budget which starts October 1st, with the anticipation they will not have to close down.
Expense areas being examined include the member participation fees. That accounts for $15,600 in the budget, based on $100 a month for the 13 towns and townships. The Plan allowed the fee as a reimbursement for the delegate participation. Although allowed since 1988, Ramie reported being told the expenditure must meet three criteria to be approved. That includes being “allowable, allocable and reasonable.” Superintendent Kris Heister, Upper Delaware National Park Service, explained that the UDC lacks any documentation - a receipt- to show what the townships/towns use the $100 for. This has been left up to the municipality, which appoints the representative to the UDC. Some keep the funds for their budgets; others allocate it to the representative.
Ramie said she has recommended eliminating the fee, which was likely meant in the beginning as an incentive for the local municipalities with frontage on the river, to join the UDC. There is no “job description” for UDC representatives. The mileage reimbursement, however, is an acceptable practice.
Their auditor suggested finding if it would be acceptable with the Park Service, to issue the fee directly to the representatives for their service rather than to the local government. This, however, could imply varying fees, given representatives’ differing amount of participation on committees. Another option is for the township/town to provide invoices.
Town of Hancock representative Fred Peckham suggested that the township/town could submit a bill with explanation of what it is for, since the UDC representative serves at the discretion of the town board.
The Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River was designated in 1978 as a part of the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. Its groundbreaking commitment relies on local land use controls and voluntary actions by landowners to protect the river valley’s resources. The National Park Service, in place here since 1980, maintains the role to manage the recreational use of the river, setting it apart from a traditional National Park. The UDC closely monitors and guards local land rights. The corridor extends 73.4 miles from just south of Hancock, NY to just north of Millrift, PA and Sparrowbush, NY.
The UDC meets on the first Thursday at 7 p.m. at 211 Bridge St., Narrowsburg, NY. The office may be contacted at 845-252-3022.