State agricultural officials in charge of the invasive species program say fees from boat stickers and registrations likely won’t cover the cost of running the program. The invasive species fee is $10 for most boats, but ranges from $5 for non-motorized boats to $20 for boats registered outside Idaho.
“I do not believe we can maintain that program just on the boat sticker fee,” Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) Administrator Celia Gould told lawmakers Wednesday. The difference between actual costs and fees collected is paid for out of the state general fund by emergency spending decisions called deficiency warrants. Already this session, the Legislature has approved $280,200 in deficiency warrants to cover costs for the first year Invasive Species Fund. Some changes to the fund, including linking sticker fees with boat registrations, could bring in more money next year, but Gould said the program won’t be self-sufficient and will require more deficiency warrants. “We guard that very judiciously,” she said. “The deficiency warrant is the trust you place in us to handle those emergencies and outbreaks, so we don’t do that lightly.”
Most of the money in the Invasive Species Fund goes to boat inspection stations. All boats are required by law to be inspected to make sure they don’t contain quagga or zebra mussels, an invasive species that agriculture officials are working to keep out of Idaho waters. “Quagga and zebra mussels are not yet present in Idaho, and we want to keep it that way,” Gould said. Nevada and Utah are among Western states where the invasive mussels have been detected in the past two years. Gould said that if the mussels spread throughout Idaho, the damage could run up to $90 million. “We feel like this is a pretty good insurance policy.”
Future general fund requests for the invasive program could be less due to start up cost and a delay in getting sticker revenues. “We were, at the time, flying a little bit blind,” said Lloyd Knight, the plant industries division administrator with ISDA. “We were trying to get the program put together. We missed the mark on getting within that dedicated funding. Quite honestly, we thought there would be more dedicated funding coming in.” He said the department is looking into operating the program on a budget of $800,000 to $900,000, which is what the stickers brought in during the last nine months. “We’re trying to hit that target.”
If the invasive species program costs more than that target, ISDA officials will be back before lawmakers next year for more emergency funding. “Anything that the dedicated (sticker) funds do not support go to deficiency warrants,” said ISDA Financial Officer Kelly Nielsen. This session lawmakers have approved $7.7 million in deficiency warrants, the largest coming for fire suppression.