Extension office will depend on donations

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SALEM, Ohio – Tax dollars won’t fund the operations of the Columbiana County Extension office this year, but hopefully donations will.
County Extension Educator Julie Herron said the extension advisory committee has developed a plan it hopes will raise $35,000 in order to keep the extension office running during 2006.
Since the failure of a 0.5 percent countywide sales tax in November, the outlook for the local extension office and other county services has been dismal.
The office received a zero budget for 2006 from county commissioners, who were forced to cut funding to all nonmandated services after the defeat of the sales tax.
Commit. At an informational meeting Jan. 10, the extension advisory committee asked those in attendance to make a commitment to one of the following fundraising ideas: Sponsor a fundraising event, acquire donations from five individuals or businesses, make a personal donation, make a donation and ask your employer to match it, or make another form of donation. Herron said other forms of donation can include things like helping in the extension office or updating the office’s Web site.
The committee is asking individuals and groups to begin fundraising before March 31.
Eileen Dray-Bardon, advisory committee chairman, said the committee felt $35,000 was a reasonable goal.
“The advisory committee, because we value what the extension office does in the community, committed to doing whatever we can,” she said.
History repeats. The county faced a similar budget crunch in 2000 and extension services were cut then as well. At that time, 4-H supporters raised $38,477 specifically for 4-H programming. A balance of about $16,000 remains in that account.
For the first few days of 2006, the office has stayed afloat by using some of the leftover funds from six years ago and by using part of a small carryover from 2005.
“That’s not going to last us very long though,” Herron said.
4-H fee. The county extension office implemented a $10 membership fee for 4-H’ers in 2006, which Herron estimates will raise $5,000 to $6,000. Those funds will be used for communications such as letters, fliers and postage and to cover items like rental costs for 4-H programs.
She hopes the money will not be used for salaries, but said, “We’ll use every penny to stay here as long as we can.”
Staff cuts. Extension office support staff will be eliminated by Feb. 10. Beginning Jan. 30, office hours will be modified to 1-5 p.m. Monday and Wednesday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. The office will be closed Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Herron and Ag Educator Ernie Oelker will be the only remaining staff members.
As long as funding allows Herron and Oelker to continue, local residents will be able to contact the office for agricultural issues and concerns. However, if the extension office closes, that service will go with it.
Columbiana County voters will see the 0.5 sales tax on the ballot again in May. But even if it passes then, Herron said extension services won’t see a penny until 2007 because there will be a delay in collection and because mandated services will receive first priority.
Dray-Bardon called the situation a “quality of life issue” for the county, noting that not only 4-H, but programs such as agriculture, community development and family and consumer sciences will be affected as well.
“We got to do this (fundraising) very quickly. We’ve got to hit the ground running,” she said.
Rumors. At the Jan. 10 meeting, concerned parties had an opportunity to ask questions and learn about the future of county extension services.
One of the most commonly asked questions is whether or not there will be a Columbiana County Fair this summer.
“We are extension. We are not the fair,” Herron said. “There will be a fair whether we’re there or not.”
Uncertainty. Also, questions have been cropping up about what will happen if the money does run out. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer, Herron said. An Ohio extension office has never been shut down, so it is still unclear what would happen.
However, Herron said she plans to do whatever she can to make sure 4-H’ers get to finish out the project year.
“I will do everything I can to see that they are able to complete their projects,” she said.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)
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