Jackson County funding for the Oregon State University Extension Service is on the chopping block for the next fiscal year, meaning an end to financial support for 4-H and other Extension programs and the likely shutdown of the entire service.
The county's budget committee proposed and approved the $204,204 cut during the county's budget hearings last week, one of several intended to help close a $7 million budget gap in the general fund for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
About $150,000 in cuts to help close a $7 million gap in Jackson County's general fund will come from eliminating the county's cable TV programs and cutting back on marketing of the shows.
The county's budget committee cut $90,000, by terminating funding for Rogue Valley Television equipment and the crew that recorded and streamed the public access programs. The committee also cut $60,000 that funded for the production and marketing of several county government shows — such as "Jackson County Up Close" and weekly public meetings for the Board of Commissioners.
The public access shows were touted as a way for the public to see county government in action without having to attend the meetings in person.
"For 15 years it has been the pipeline for transparency in local government," said Joe Brett, RVTV operations and client relations director. "I think that's a really valuable service to our citizens.
No numbers were available on how many viewers tune in regularly, as Brett was still compiling the numbers on Monday. The county programs are available online at the county's website or on Charter's Channel 14.
Don Skundrick, chairman of the county Board of Commissioners, agreed the service has been a valuable one.
"It's educational for the public. Is it absolutely essential? No, but I think it's important," he said. "I really hated to see that service get cut."
— Ryan Pfeil
"It will mean the Extension will close. Jackson County Extension will leave the county," said Phil Van Buskirk, OSU Extension administrator for Jackson and Josephine counties. "The support the county gives us is basically our base budget."
Van Buskirk said that while the Extension Service also receives dedicated state and federal funds and grants for specific programs, the county funding is critical for its general operations.
The cuts, if approved by the county Board of Commissioners, would eliminate funding for 4-H, the Master Gardener Program, Small Woodland Forestry Program and others. There are 31 full- and part-time employees with the Extension Service, six of whom are employed through the state and could be moved to other Extension sites if the closure happens.
"I did not expect this to happen at all," Van Buskirk said Monday.
County officials also said the OSU Experiment Station could be at risk. Though it's funded with state general fund dollars, county officials said they feared the state would pull funding when it hears of the cuts to the Extension Service.
"They're kind of joined at the hip, if you will," said Board of Commissioners Chair Don Skundrick. "I hate to see those things go away."
Anne Manlove, 4-H youth faculty for the Extension, said 4,000 youths were involved in the program last year in some capacity.
"It's significant," Manlove said. "It means there's this void in the community, training ground (for those) who are stepping into leadership roles."
Several county departments also saw cuts recommended for the upcoming budget year. They included the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, the district attorney's office, Health & Human Services, Development Services and libraries.
Additional programs and services that saw cuts outside those departments include the county's Rogue Valley Television public access broadcast. The county also plans to dip into its reserves to cover the majority of the shortfall.
At least some of the cuts could be avoided if a surcharge proposed by Commissioner Chairman Don Skundrick on Thursday were to be enacted. Under Skundrick's proposal, each house in the county would pay a monthly surcharge of somewhere between $2 and $10.
Those funds would support the Jackson County Jail, freeing up some general fund support for other county programs. County officials are researching the possibility, meaning the approved cuts are still technically on hold.
"These cuts are contingent on no new revenues. These aren't certain yet," said County Administrator Danny Jordan.
Skundrick's proposal would need the support of at least one of the other two commissioners, John Rachor and Doug Breidenthal. They both said Thursday they would want it to be placed before county voters for approval.
Extension Service officials say they also will study the possibility of creating a tax district that would provide funding specifically for Extension programs. That idea, if pursued, likely would not be on the ballot until November 2014, Van Buskirk said.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.