SALEM, Ohio — Morrow County voters have approved a five-year tax levy that will allow the county’s Ohio State University Extension office to remain open.
The 0.5 mill levy passed 3,245-2,609, or about 55 percent to 44 percent, according to unofficial board of elections results, during last week’s primary.
The levy is expected to bring in about $300,000 per year for the office’s operation — a necessary measure since the office received only $6,250 of its $174,000 budget request from county commissioners forced to trim the county budget $1.3 million this year.
County 4-H Educator Becky Barker gave credit for the levy’s passage to the dozens of people of all ages who reached out to voters and shared their stories of how Extension programs have benefited them over the years.
Those volunteers spoke at civic organization and governmental meetings, telling of how Extension staffers have helped them with 4-H programs or farm or horticultural questions, Barker said.
“The groups we talked to really seemed to support Extension and the levy,” she said.
Other methods used to campaign for the levy included signs placed across the county as well as information in the county shopper newspaper and Extension’s own newsletter, which included an extensive question-and-answer fact sheet.
The campaign was particularly important since without an Extension office in operation in the county, the county’s 4-H program would come to an end and affect exhibits at the county fair.
According to the county’s fact sheet, some 32 percent of the county’s young people ages 5-19 are involved in Extension education programs like 4-H and more than 500 young people exhibit livestock projects at the fair.
Barker said Morrow County has traditionally had strong programming despite budget cutbacks at the local and state level and an understaffed office.
Since 2004, the office has housed only two educators and a limited support staff. The county’s agricultural educator passed away in 2007 and has not been replaced, leaving a skeleton staff to carry out 4-H, agriculture, horticulture and nutrition programming, she said.
“We’ve still been able to meet the needs of the people in the county even though we’re understaffed,” Barker said.
With the new funding available, Barker said there are hopes to fill vacancies to bring the office staff back in line with what’s available in other counties.
Money from the new levy will not become available until 2010, so the most immediate priority will be surviving the next seven months of 2009 with help from donations and cost-share efforts to keep the office running, Barker said.
The state’s new Extension restructuring, unveiled earlier this spring, will allow agriculture and natural resources educators from nearby Delaware and Knox counties to share programming with Morrow County residents, Barker said.
The levy will cost most homeowners just more than $15 per year, according to the Extension fact sheet, and all money collected will go directly into a fund available only for the agency to spend.
Morrow County was the only county statewide to have a levy on the ballot this month, according to state Extension spokesperson Suzanne Steel. Steel said other counties, including Morgan, Vinton, Noble, Harrison and Monroe operate their offices with funds collected through levies.