Extension hurt by budget cuts

SALEM, Ohio -Money is scarce at the Trumbull County Extension office this year due to a proposed 40 percent budget cut.
The cut triggered reduced hours and an eliminated position. And all this comes in the wake of a 35 percent budget cut two years ago.
Statewide. Trumbull County isn’t the only OSU Extension office facing a bleak budget.
Across the state, funding is down about 1.5 percent, said Keith Smith, state extension director. Only 51 of the state’s 88 counties have reported their 2005 allocations so far, he said.
Trumbull County’s cut is the worst in the state, Smith said, but many other counties are also worried about their futures.
Pulling funds. All this stems from the counties being strapped for money, Smith said.
The governor proposed a 20 percent cut to the Local Government Fund, so in anticipation, counties are already trimming funds.
But county extension offices face a double whammy when this local money is taken away. Funding is supposed to be a cooperative effort with local, state and federal levels.
If the local level pulls its funds, then the state and federal funds are also pulled, Smith said. For every 40 cents the county adds, the state and federal levels add about 60 cents, he said.
No tax help. By proposing a cut, the governor is telling the counties to generate money through their own taxes, Smith said. The problem is people won’t vote for these taxes, he said.
In Mahoning County, for example, voters turned down a 1/2 percent renewal sales tax last November. This was critical to the local government’s general fund, which is where the extension office gets its funding, said the county’s extension educator David Goerig.
The county extension office asked commissioners to maintain its current level of funding, but the Mahoning County office still does not have a budget for 2005.
Things aren’t encouraging, Goerig said. He’s had to eliminate the horticulture program assistant position and cut staff hours.
“We can’t spend money we don’t have,” he said.
“We’re hopeful [to get a budget soon], but in the meantime, I’ve had to make some hard decisions.”
In the last three years, the budget’s dropped 15 percent, but the office is still logging the same number of calls and its classes are still full, Goerig said.
“We still provide a good service to citizens,” he said.
Could be worse. Columbiana County is “thrilled” with a 5 percent budget cut, said extension educator Ernie Oelker.
It could be much worse, he said, pointing to Trumbull County.
But he isn’t relaxing.
A 1 percent renewal sales tax failed in the fall and expires at the end of this year. If it isn’t passed by then, next year’s budget will be zero, Oelker said.
Grant loss. In Trumbull County, extension educator Marie Economos says the office will feel the cut by more than the proposed 40 percent.
Many programs are funded by grants that require an in-kind contribution. If she can’t make a match, those grants won’t be available either, she said.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)


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