August 14, 1996 in Nation/World

Critics Say Fish And Game Driving Up Costs Agency Defends Having More Vehicles Than Employees To Drive Them

Associated Press

The Idaho Fish and Game Department has more vehicles than it has employees. It also has a $3 million deficit in the current budget.

One critic of the agency, Dee Eldridge, of St. Anthony, says the fleet of 596 vehicles is way too big.

“That’s way, way out of proportion,” he said. “I absolutely cannot see why a department needs that many vehicles for 523 employees or why the need over 400 four-wheel-drive pickups.”

But Fish and Game Director Jerry Conley says his agency is spread out, and serves a huge area.

“We’re so spread out statewide, we need a lot of vehicles in rural areas for people who live a long way from home,” he said. “An officer in a rural location needs to drive a vehicle home in case he gets a call in the middle of the night about a poacher.”

He also said the agency has extra vehicles for volunteer conservation reserve officers.

“It’s awfully misleading to talk about the number of vehicles compared to the number of employees,” Conley said. “That just scratches the surface.”

“There has been a horrendous amount of fat in the department’s budget,” contends Eldridge, president of the Upper Snake River valley Sportsmen’s Association. “The director has talked about cutting conservation officers and hatchery personnel instead of cutting out the waste in Boise, and that’s not right.”

A weekend story by the Idaho Falls Post Register said Fish and Game has 40 two-wheel drive half-ton pickups, 273 half-ton trucks with four-wheel drive, eight two-wheel drive three-quarter ton pickups and 129 with four-wheel drive.

In addition, it has 17 sedans and station wagons, 15 vans, 8 minivans, 16 Suburbans, 13 small pickups and 35 one-ton pickups.

Fish and Game also operates one school bus, 14 dump trucks, 38 single-axle trucks and 17 tandem-axle trucks. The fleet costs $8.4 million a year.

The department has been in for criticism recently, because license sales have dropped off, causing a 12 percent budget crunch for the current fiscal year. The Fish and Game Commission meets in Bayview this week to work on the problem.

State Sen. Evan Frasure, R-Pocatello, chairman of that chamber’s Transportation Committee, also criticizes the department for being top-heavy.

“Administrative costs have gone up four-fold over the last 10 years,” he said. “They’re definitely top-heavy in Boise, and that’s where we have to make the cuts.”

Conley said the department’s personnel growth in Boise has been funded mainly with federal funds. In fiscal year 1983, the department had 237 employees funded by revenue from license sales and 80 paid through federal funds. In fiscal 1996, 292 jobs were funded with license income and 231 were federally funded.

“If you look at our growth in personnel in that light, I think we’re about even,” he said.

In the past decade, Fish and Game has grown from 394.6 full-time employees to 523. Its annual budget has gone from $24.6 million to $56 million.

xxxx BY THE NUMBERS Vehicles vs. employees in the Idaho Fish and Game Department: Vehicles and heavy trucks: 596 (Another 49 vehicles are scheduled to be sold at auction.) Full-time employees 523

By comparison Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department: Vehicles and heavy trucks: 210 Full-time employees: 850 Idaho Law Enforcement Department: Vehicles and heavy trucks: 310 Full-time employees: 427

© Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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