Extension Service budget cut will cost county substantially more

During challenging financial times, if you knew you could get almost 10 times your investment in one year, would you make a sacrifice to ensure that would happen? That is the question the Jackson County commissioners are facing as they continue their current budget deliberations.

Jackson County anticipates a serious financial shortfall for next year's budget. There is not enough money to fund all of the programs the county has supported in the past. Last month, the county's Budget Committee voted to recommend that the Extension Service receive zero funding starting in July. By cutting funding for Extension programs, the county will save around $200,000. However, in view of what that small saving will cost Jackson County residents, Extension funding should be reinstated into next year's budget.

In 2012, Jackson County gave Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center $205,640. This amounted to 11 percent of the total Extension budget of $1,949,540, most of which came from state and federal funding, grants and contracts. In other words, for every dollar Jackson County invested in the Extension, $8.48 was generated from other sources.

However, almost all outside funding received by the Extension is contingent on a county contribution. Eliminating Jackson County's allocation means the Extension will lose its other funds as well. The Extension will cease to exist. Matching funds, grants, contracts and programs will be diverted to other counties or will be lost. The Experiment Station will be moved elsewhere.

By saving $200,000 in expenditures, the county will lose almost $2 million a year. After serving Jackson County for almost 100 years, the Extension will close.

By eliminating funding for the Extension, the county not only will lose a large sum of money, but there will be other significant losses as well. Thirty-one employees will lose their jobs or be relocated. The Extension grounds and buildings will be vacated, and the county will need funds to take over all the maintenance.

Twenty-four demonstration gardens will become neglected, weed-filled patches. Programs provided through the Extension will be terminated or significantly altered, including 4-H, Master Gardeners, nutrition, forestry, small farms, orchard pest management, viticulture and horticulture.

Local vineyards and orchards will no longer have support from the Experiment Station and Oregon State University faculty, thus affecting the local economy. Local businesses will be affected adversely because programs no longer exist. There will be a ripple effect.

For instance, 4-H members buy lots of feed, and Master Gardeners purchase garden supplies. If there is no Spring Garden Fair or 4-H County Fair, our fairgrounds will suffer substantially and may need to close.

Besides obvious funding and program loss, there also will be many more subtle yet significant losses. For example, the Jackson County Master Gardener Association is one of the Extension's programs. Last year, 450 Master Gardener members donated 20,000 hours of time, providing free community services including classes, plant clinics, TV segments, two popular garden guides, a garden program for 75 children, demonstration gardens and a speakers bureau.

Last year, Master Gardeners gave a $2,500 OSU scholarship, granted $4,200 to support garden programs in 22 schools and gave $2,800 to support community gardens. The Spring Garden Fair, which will occur May 4-5 at The Expo, is the largest garden fair between Portland and San Francisco, attracting more than 7,000 people. The Winter Dreams symposium was attended by 300 gardeners.

Other Extension partners help Jackson County residents.

The following examples are only a few of the services provided by the Extension which will disappear. Last year the Forestry-Small Woodland Owners program offered 30 educational programs to more than 1,500 participants in addition to providing newsletters, research and forester support. Small Farms faculty reached 2,161 small farmers and landowners through classes, newsletters, events and one-on-one consultation.

More than 4,000 youth participated in 4-H programs and entered 2,528 projects at the Jackson County Fair. Family Food Education Volunteers logged more than 100 hours assisting OSU nutrition educators.

Master Food Preservers provided 27 classes including the importance of food safety and logged more than 4,500 volunteer hours in 2012. Living Well programs assisted more than 1,200 older adults suffering from health challenges.

The Extension is home to many people. It affects the quality of life that most Jackson County residents seek through education, research and support of the local economy. It would be a shame to lose a resource that generates $2 million annually and all that the Extension programs offer because of a $200,000 budget cut.

Jody Willis is president of the board of the Jackson County Master Gardener Association.

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