Harrison County extension office faces grim future

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CADIZ, Ohio – Harrison County extension may become the third extension office in Ohio to put its future in the hands of county voters.

Harrison County commissioners have notified the extension office that future funding from the county’s general fund is highly questionable.

Commissioners recommended putting a county property tax levy of no more than .75 mills on the spring ballot to fund the local OSU Extension office.

According to OSU East District Extension Director Lou Fourman, the county extension advisory committee has already approved the idea and formed a committee to promote the passage of such a tax levy.

Meeting schedule. Harrison County veterinarian Scott Pendleton, county advisory committee member, will head the effort. The first meeting to discuss the tax levy was scheduled Jan. 23 in the Puskarich Public Library in Cadiz.

“We are really pretty confident about this,” said Commissioner Phil Madzia. “We’ve had representatives from Monroe and Noble counties here and they told us all their secrets.”

Monroe and Noble are the only Ohio counties with tax levies to support their county extension services. Noble County has had a levy since the late 1980s. Monroe County passed a .7 mill levy in November 2000.

County extension offices receive local, state and federal funding, however the state and federal dollars hinge upon local funding.

Sizable reduction. According to Madzia, Harrison County ended 2001 with a $112,000 deficit. Now, with local funding from the state reduced by 6 percent, the county health plan going up 10 percent, and a $70,000 loss of interest income from county investment accounts, the county faces a sizable reduction in county spending, he said.

At its Jan. 16 meeting, the commission adopted a partial budget for 2002, authorizing only county payroll and related expenses.

According to County Auditor Patrick Moore, the county needs to trim its spending back to “salaries, utilities, and mandated expenses,” until a good picture of total income has been determined. He expects to have a budget for the commission in a few weeks.

Funding cuts. What that means for the extension office is that the $84,000 request made for 2002 is impossible, said extension agent Jane Keyser, and there will likely by a cut from the $76,000 the office received last year.

The commission has indicated that if there isn’t enough money, the final quarterly payment might not be paid until 2003.

If a .75 mill levy is passed, Madzia said the funds available would be more than the county has appropriated in the past.

“The commission is more than 100 percent behind this mill levy,” he said. “We’re hoping we might even be able to get a full-time agricultural agent.”

Currently, Harrison County shares the services of Carroll County Ag Agent Mike Hogan and Jefferson County Ag Agent Ken Simeral.

No state funds. OSU’s Fourman indicated that with state budget cuts to OSU Extension, there will be no state money to help see the local office through 2002.

“We are funded at just barely $2.5 million at the state level,” Fourman said. “Our policy right now is to leave four agent positions vacant in each district, or a total of 20 positions across the state. I can’t replace any agent until another one leaves.”

Although this is the third county in his district to seek a tax levy, Fourman doesn’t believe this kind of funding for extension will become a trend.

“It is really only something that happens in small rural counties where there has been a decrease in sales tax revenues,” he said.

Harrison County had a 2000 population of just under 16,000.

“In the larger counties, extension funding is such an insignificant part of the budget, it doesn’t attract the same attention. Usually it’s only half a percent or less,” Fourman said.

4-H future. If the extension office were forced to close, it would mean the end of 4-H in the county, Keyser said. There are about 400 young people active in the traditional Harrison County community 4-H clubs, with another 200 involved through school programs.

(You can contact Jackie Cummins at 800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at jcummins@farmanddairy.com.)

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