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MailTribune.com
  • Extension Center service district backers cultivate support

    Proponents of Extension Center service district hope efforts will bare fruit at ballot box
  • For Jack Duggan, one thing is clear: support for a proposed service district that would fund the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center is high.
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    • Inside the request for Southern Oregon Research...
      Q: How does a service district differ from a special district or tax levy?
      A: Under a service district, property owners are taxed based on the assessed value of their property, and the Jackson C...
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      Inside the request for Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center service district
      Q: How does a service district differ from a special district or tax levy?

      A: Under a service district, property owners are taxed based on the assessed value of their property, and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners manages the funds. With a special district, a separate board manages the funds, or a tax levy, which has an expiration date.

      Q: How much would this measure cost me?

      A: The measure would tax up to 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on Jackson County property. For a house with an assessed value of $154,210 — the average in Jackson County — that's $7.71 a year.

      Q: Who would be in charge of distributing the money?

      A: The Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

      Q: How much revenue would be raised, and what would this money pay for?

      A: At a minimum 2 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, $321,900 would be raised for staff, materials, travel, training and delayed maintenance, supporters have said.

      If the full 5 cents per $1,000 is collected, about $800,000 would be raised to pay for the above plus a land-steward coordinator, Master Gardener coordinator, 4-H program assistant and a building and property manager, along with an office assistant, supporters have said.

      Q: Who decides what the tax rate would be?

      A: Jackson County commissioners.

      Q: Would the district's tax rate ever go up?

      A: Any increases beyond the initial maximum of 5 cents per $1,000 would have to be approved by voters.

      Q: How much is the county funding the Extension Service now?

      A: About $204,000 annually.

      Q: Could the money raised through the service district be used for other purposes?

      A: No. It could be used only to fund Extension Service programs and activities benefitting Jackson County residents.

      Q: What happens if the measure fails?

      A: Extension officials have said that if the county pulls its funding, the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center's national and state funding streams would be discontinued because of the lack of local support, and the agency would close down.
  • For Jack Duggan, one thing is clear: support for a proposed service district that would fund the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center is high.
    At least among voters who know what the Extension Service does.
    "We identified this early on," says Duggan, campaign coordinator for Friends of Research & Extension, a group that has been campaigning in support of Measure 15-121.
    "The biggest issue we face is making people understand what Extension is and why it's important to keep it going in Jackson County," he says. "Our goal is to reach those people who don't know a lot about Extension."
    On the May 20 ballot, the measure would form a service district with a permanent tax rate if passed.
    Homeowners would be taxed a maximum of 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or about $7.71 per year on a house assessed at $154,210 — the average in Jackson County.
    Funds for the new Jackson County 4-H, Master Gardener and Agricultural Extension Service District would go to support staff, travel and training, and materials.
    At the maximum tax rate, it would also pay for a land-steward coordinator, Master Gardener coordinator, 4-H program assistant and a building and property manager, along with an office assistant, supporters have said.
    Jackson County commissioners would serve as the governing body. This is different from the Jackson County libraries' proposed special district, where an independent five-person board would take the fiscal reins.
    Duggan says he hasn't come across much pushback against the measure, but some have said they will not vote for the measure because it's another tax.
    "It's usually based on not so much what the amount is, just a default setting that some people have," Duggan says.
    The Extension Service currently receives funding from a variety of sources, mostly state and federal dollars. Receiving those outside funds is contingent on local financial support, however. If the county's annual $200,000 allotment to the Extension Service goes away, so does the rest of the agency's funding.
    The idea for a service district came on the heels of county budget hearings in 2013, when the Budget Committee made cuts to numerous agencies — including the Extension Service, before funding was later reinstated — to shore up a $6.7 million shortfall.
    "Based on our budget situation, we had no other alternatives," Extension Director Phil Van Buskirk says. "We're fortunate to find a group of our stakeholders that felt very strongly."
    The county has since made up the shortfall with rainy-day reserves, lower expenses and boosts in revenue from several sources, including property taxes and state funding. Measure proponents say they want to make sure Extension funding is always secure. An annual audit would be available to the public, according to the Jackson County voters guide.
    "It gets them off the roller coaster, so to speak," says Jackson County Commissioner Doug Breidenthal, Extension liaison.
    Campaign officials say the key to the measure's passage will be continuing to spread awareness about the many services, programs and activities Extension provides — nearly 600 every year, according to the voters guide.
    "I like to call it 'Six Degrees of Extension,' " Duggan says. "The people who are familiar talk to people who aren't. We can just expand the knowledge base."
    The Oregon Secretary of State's website shows Friends of Research and Extension has raised more than $39,000 to help its cause. Duggan says those funds have gone toward signs, advertising in print, TV and radio, fliers and buttons. The group is also planning to send out mailers, which will include information on growing the agricultural industry through education.
    The group also has set up an informational booth at recent public events, including the Pear Blossom Festival.
    "Basically we hit the highlights," Duggan says of the booth, adding those highlights include a rundown of all the agencies under the Extension Service's umbrella. "Somewhere in that litany, something will resonate."
    The Extension Service has partnered with Jackson County for 100 years. Run out of Oregon State University, the Extension Service's original purpose was to deliver objective, research-based information and advice to ranchers, farmers and orchardists. Since that original partnership, programs such as 4-H youth development, the Master Gardeners program and the Land Stewards program — among others — have been brought into the fold.
    "The Extension Service touches everyone's lives in some way or another," Van Buskirk says. "I don't think people really realize the tentacles we put out and help create a place where people want to live."
    Bob Reynolds, Master Gardeners coordinator, agrees. There are 450 active members in the group, and their primary function is to educate members of the public about best practices in their own day-to-day gardening battles, he says.
    "We do close to 3,000 questions brought to us each year," Reynolds says. "(Gardeners) will bring us a problem, we'll research it, and come up with a bunch of right actions they can take. We learn something."
    One concerned gardener brought in a sample of soil that contained a white substance. Master Gardeners identified it as fungal mycelia, indicative of healthy growth.
    "She would have tried to get rid of it perhaps," Reynolds says.
    The annual Spring Fair, held yesterday and today at The Expo, is a fundraiser for the group. The event would cease if funding were pulled.
    "It'd be a shame to lose that," Reynolds says.
    The Extension Service also has taken on large-scale growing issues, agriculture officials say. Ron Meyer of Meyer Orchards in Talent recalled a 1950s incident that threatened the health of thousands of pear trees, a situation the Extension Service was able to solve.
    Thanks to research and testing conducted by the Extension Service, the culprit was found to be the pear psylla, an insect that injected a microplasm into the plants when it fed, Meyer says.
    "When they would suck on the leaves, they injected a microplasm into the tree, then it would go down and stop the flow of the sap, and the tree would die," Meyer says.
    Extension researchers pointed toward better breeds of tree with resistant roots, and most of the dying plants were replanted.
    "That solved the problem," Meyer says.
    The agency's reach extends to youth programs.
    Anne Manlove, coordinator for the Extension Service's 4-H and youth activities, says 4,000-plus students are involved in 4-H programs, including agriculture, farming, ranching, cooking, baking, public speaking and art.
    "There are a lot of kids who could be home-schooled or do not have activities in their after-school hours. That time is critical for kids staying out of trouble and for developing important skills that are going to help them be productive adults and citizens," Manlove says. "If you take out one of those opportunities for kids, will they find something else to do? Yes. The question is, 'What is it?' Is it the only show in town? Absolutely not, but obviously there are a lot of kids that find value in it."
    Campaign officials say they are guardedly optimistic about the measure's passage, and they will keep spreading awareness about what they do.
    "We're not professional campaigners," Duggan says. "We're a support group that really believes in what the organization does."
    Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.
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