Ohio budget looks tight for ag programs, OSU in 2002-03

COLUMBUS – The last four two-year state budgets have been kind to Ohio agencies and universities that have a big impact on Ohio agriculture.

Not so with the $45 billion budget signed June 6 by Gov. Bob Taft.

Crafted under the pressure of the DeRolph school funding decision, Ohio’s budget for fiscal years 2002 and 2003 has record funding for primary and secondary schools. But higher education took a hit, as did several ag programs and offices.

Farmland preservation cut.

Most notably, the Office of Farmland Preservation, poised to start administering the $25 million grant program voters approved through Issue I last November, received no funding.

The office received approximately $378,000 total in fiscal years 2000 and 2001.

The governor’s office and several legislators are looking at options to keep doors open at the office, currently housed at the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

One option is tapping into a $2.5 million set-aside fund in the Department of Development and transferring operating funds for the office to the department of agriculture. In a second option, Rep. Timothy Grendell, R-Chesterland, plans to introduce legislation to tap into the state’s $1.1 billion “rainy day” fund to keep the office open.

Ohio State University’s main ag programs, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, received no increases in the new budget. Likewise, the university’s college of agriculture received flat funding through the university’s teaching budget.

The university as a whole received essentially no increase in state funding. “Rarely, if ever, have I seen such a rapid and dramatic reversal of an institution’s fiscal fortune as that which has occurred over the past several months,” said Ohio State University President William Kirwan.

“How, in the information age, can our state continue to place such a low priority on higher education funding?” Kirwan said. “How do our leaders expect Ohio to reverse its flagging economic fortunes?”

Dr. Bob Moser, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, said it’s too early to tell how the tight budget will affect the college, its staff and programs.

“We’re disappointed, very disappointed,” Moser said. “We were hoping we could move some things along, but we won’t be able to do that now.”

He said there may be cuts to keep high-priority programs going.

OSU Extension.

OSU Extension’s state funding will remain static in the next two years, as the final budget gave the university’s educational outreach program the same appropriation it received in FY01: $27.7 million.

“They zeroed us out both years,” said OSU Extension Director Keith Smith. “The picture’s not pretty.”

“I guess we should be jumping up and down that we even got that,” Smith said, referring to possible budget cuts, “but it’s not good.”

OSU Extension had requested $30.6 million in FY02 and $33.6 million in FY03.

The state funds make up 43 percent of the department’s budget. Federal funds account for 19 percent; county funding for 28 percent; and other sources, such as competitive grants, 11 percent.

Smith expects federal funding will be equally flat over the next two years.

The flatline budget hits personnel the hardest, because salaries eat up 79 percent of extension’s budget. Salary adjustments this year will be $395, “basically zero,” Smith said, and in order to provide future salary increases, even cost of living increases, cuts to staff or programs may be made.

Smith said he has been able to set aside money each year since 1994 in a “rainy day” fund, but while that may help pay salary increases next year, it that might not be enough.

“When people leave extension through normal attrition, we may have to be selective about whether or not we fill that position, and that means on the state, district and county levels,” Smith said. “There might be a few gaps here and there.”

OARDC.

Ohio’s agricultural research center also received no increase in the new two-year state budget. Its appropriation will remain at the FY01 level, $38.7 million.

The OARDC research team is composed of nearly 200 scientists who conduct more than 400 research projects.

“There’s no real flexibility in the next biennium,” said OARDC Director Steven Slack. “We will not be able to grow existing programs or address newer issues people bring to our attention.

“It’s going to be a difficult biennium,” Slack said.

The OARDC was just beginning to emerge from a difficult financial period that stretched from the mid1980s to the early 1990s. “Since 1990, we’ve done a lot of restructuring and it wasn’t until 1995, that we began rebuilding,” said Slack, who added that the OARDC still has 20 percent fewer faculty members today than it did in 1990.

The OARDC receives two-thirds of its funding from the state. Ten percent comes from federal funds and the remaining funds are from other sources such as grants and contracts.

Ohio Department of Agriculture.

At first glance, the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s budget for the next two years looks as flat as the ag line-items, but when you subtract funding the department received for new regulatory programs, it actually took a $2 million hit each year.

The budget adds approximately $3 million over the next two years for the administration of the new livestock regulation program, the regulation of concentrated animal feeding operations.

It also earmarks $1.25 million to expand current gypsy moth eradication efforts.

ODA’s FY02 operating expenses budget, $3.1 million, actually drops below FY00 levels.

“It’s tight, but it’s doable,” said department spokesman Mark Anthony. “Most of our work is regulatory and in those areas, we’ll be able to meet our statutory obligation.”

Programs within ODA taking the biggest hits are its markets division, which coordinates international trade and development and the Ohio Proud program. The international trade program alone took a $1 million cut over the next two years, from $2.3 million to $1.3 million.

The amusement ride inspection program was cut approximately $200,000 over the two years, as was the division of weights and measures.

With an eye on livestock diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease and mad cow disease, the department’s budget for animal disease control was increased $400,000 over the next two years.

ODNR.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources took a $5 million blow, dropping from an operating budget of $91.1 million in fiscal year 2001 to $86.9 million in FY02 – a 4.6 percent decrease for 2003 over adjusted FY02 budget levels.

If the agency can get through FY01, it will see a jump back up to $92.6 million.

“Everything’s on the table,” said Bill Moody, assistant director. “It will obviously mean some cuts.”

Even divisions that received slight increases will not be able to sustain current operating levels, he said. In most divisions it could mean staff vacancies may not be filled or the dollars won’t be there to upgrade computers or other maintenance efforts. Seasonal employees, naturalists at state parks, for example, may not be hired or may be responsible for two or three parks.

In the Division of Forestry, which offered an early retirement incentive this spring, there could be a reduction in staff, Moody said, with remaining foresters covering an expanded territory.

County soil and water conservation districts, which receive operating funds from the state that are matched by county funds, will also be affected. The SWCD program, which has had a dollar-for-dollar state-county match since the 1998-99 budget, will likely drop to a 87-cent match. In counties where there are not local funds to make up the difference, programs and staff may be reduced.

Moody said numerous special programs were earmarked for nearly $1.1 million from the SWCD budget, most with a water quality emphasis.

Moody said the general public may not see or feel the ODNR tight budget’s pinch, but with fewer dollars, some “impacts will be unavoidable.”

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

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