Extension still struggling to survive

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SALEM, Ohio – After more than a year with no county funding, the Columbiana County Ohio State University Extension office is still hanging on.
But not by much.
For the past year, the office has operated mostly on donations. There’s just one employee left to run the show and public office hours have been cut to 12 per week.
“We’re down about as low as you can go,” said Columbiana County Extension Educator Julie Herron, the last remaining employee.
Looking ahead. Herron said extension services haven’t received any county funding for 2007, but she anticipates the office will remain open through the year. However, her hope hinges on the success of a few fundraisers.
The 4-H program is depending on funds from a raffle at the county fair and funds from the auction of several gift baskets at the fair. Funds from 4-H membership dues and quality assurance clinic fees are also factored in to the office’s future.
Of course, donations from the community are still needed to keep the doors open.
Last year, 4-H members’ $10 dues brought in $6,300, while the raffle and basket auction generated $12,000. Combined with other donations, the community raised $42,000 for extension during 2006. That money was added to the office’s carryover balance from 2005 and the $16,000 in donations that was left in a special account from the last time extension services were cut in 2000.
There are a small amount of funds left from 2006, but there’s no $16,000 cushion to fall back on this year.
So although there’s no guarantee, Herron estimates the 4-H program can struggle through another year.
The figures. Herron said the cost to keep the office at its current status, with one employee, is about $35,000. To have two employees, the budget would be $60,000. To operate at full capacity, extension services would need $170,000.
Although Columbiana County commissioners recently imposed a 0.5 percent sales tax, it doesn’t mean any immediate relief for extension.
The tax isn’t scheduled to begin until later this year and it will take several months for the county to see any revenue. Even then, Herron said it’s unlikely that extension services will receive funding until at least 2008.
“How long it will take to trickle down to us, I don’t know,” she said.
Nonmandated services like extension will have to take a back seat to the services the county is required to fund, Herron said.
Voters rejected the sales tax three times before commissioners took steps to impose it. The tax is subject to a referendum petition, which means that if residents can gather enough signatures, the tax won’t be collected and the issue will be sent back to the ballot.
Don’t give up. Despite the bleak circumstances, Herron said the extension services should be able to hang on until there’s some relief from the county.
“I think that we can pull it through until the beginning of 2008,” she said.
4-H impact. Columbiana County’s 850 4-H’ers are taking the budget crunch in stride. While membership is down a bit from 2000, it hasn’t suffered during the past couple of years.
But that doesn’t mean it will hold steady forever.
“Eventually there could be a drop in membership,” Herron said.
The drop would likely be from lack of publicity. Without any help in the office, Herron said she doesn’t have enough time to recruit new faces and organize membership drives.
Fundraising. At the beginning of last year, the county’s extension advisory committee organized a large scale fundraiser. The committee encouraged groups to raise money by seeking donations, sponsoring fundraisers and making their own contributions.
This year, Herron said the committee has eased off the plan and there’s no direct push for fundraising, although it’s still encouraged.
While manpower at the office has been curbed, the amount of work remains the same. The phones keep ringing, the paperwork keeps piling up, the e-mails keep pouring in.
And the extension office just keeps hanging on.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

Related stories:

Donations come through for Columbiana County extension (4/13/2006)

Extension office will depend on donations (1/12/2006)

Commissioners can’t fund Columbiana extension office (12/1/2005)

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