OLYMPIA-- The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission today approved a 1999-2001 operating budget that provides for major improvements to the Department's antiquated business systems.
The $262.8 million budget, which now goes to the state Office of Financial Management (OFM) for review, also includes a legislative funding request to help pay for wild salmon recovery efforts throughout the state.
"This budget, above all else, reflects a commitment on the part of the Department of Fish and Wildlife to put its financial house in order," said Fish and Wildlife Commission Chair Lisa Pelly.
"Ever since the merger in 1994 of the departments of Fisheries and Wildlife, there has never been a major effort to improve and coordinate business practices," Pelly added. "This budget make substantial progress in accomplishing that goal, as well as positioning the Department as a leader in the collaborative efforts now underway to restore this state's troubled wild salmon runs."
The budget was developed on the heels of a fiscal crisis earlier this year which forced the Department to cut more than $11 million in personnel and programs. Poor business practices have been identified as partly to blame for the crisis.
Despite the Department-wide cuts necessitated by the funding shortfall, Commission members said the 1999-2001 proposed budget was not developed with the goal of restoring those cuts.
"There was a conscious decision on the part of the Commission and agency managers that our top priorities had to be to improve our financial management and business practices and position the agency as an aggressive leader in the efforts to restore wild salmon runs such as Puget Sound chinook," said department Deputy Director Larry Peck.
The budget includes requests for funding to improve business practices such as revenue forecasting and collecting. It would provide for new computer systems that would allow the Department to substantially upgrade its payroll and inventory tracking systems.
The budget also calls for funding for implementation of a computerized fishing and hunting license sales system that will make it easier and faster for the state's hunters and fishers to purchase licenses. The new system is expected to be in partial operation next year, and in full operation the following year.
The budget's salmon recovery package includes funding not only to carry out a comprehensive recovery strategy for Puget Sound chinook, but also to fund various wild salmon recovery efforts in local watersheds throughout the state. The department's operating budget calls for $22 million to be spent for new salmon recovery programs. The capital budget seeks $35 million to continue salmon recovery projects ranging from the removal of fish-passage barriers to assistance to local landowners.
The budget also includes several major wildlife initiatives, including a proposal to fund the development of educational and recreational facilities for viewing wildlife. It also includes a proposal to fund recovery efforts for three elk herds that have declined in recent years.
The budget reflects the request made by OFM to all state agencies that they identify options for a 7 percent reduction in state general fund expenditures.
The proposed budget identifies about $6 million in cuts, including hatchery production and shellfish program reductions, to meet the request.