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Extension Service braces for cuts

State cuts have already whittled away at the Oregon State University Extension Service budget. Now local extension agents are waiting for word on expected county reductions in funding

Lyla Houglum, dean and director of the OSU Extension Service, said her agency certainly was not being left behind when it came to budget disasters faced around the state.

Unfortunately as we look towards the next biennium, we are expecting further reductions and we are in the process of trying to make some plans based on this biennium, she said.

We're basically being forced to decide which services the people of Oregon need the most.

— In the current biennium, the Extension Service was dealt a 20 percent reduction in state funding. Additional cuts of up to &

36;7.5 million are expected for the coming biennium.

OSU announced last week that 49&

189; Extension Service positions would be cut.

Houglum said Gov. Ted Kulongoski had recommended a slight budget increase for the Extension Service, which still would have reduced services due to increased salaries, insurance and retirement program costs.

But more recent proposals suggest an addition 7.5 percent will be cut.

Sadly, Houglum said, the people who receive the services will be most affected because the people who deliver the services aren't going to be there any longer.

Locally funded Extension Service programs could be cut by 25 percent.

So basically, there might be a person here but there will be no money to operate on, said Phil VanBuskirk, interim administrator for the Southern Oregon Extension Service office. They'll be sitting at a desk with nothing to do.

VanBuskirk said, pending final approval of the county budget on Wednesday, effects on local services of the extension program could include total elimination of the range and livestock program, which works with the cattle industry to enhance the economy and environment through various programs.

That could also end the job of one full-time employee who spends half-time with range and livestock programs and half with 4H program.

Unless the industry can find funds to save it — this guy is basically waiting to see if he has a job, VanBuskirk said.

And he's one of two 4-H positions, which, if he leaves, would leave (the other 4-H coordinator) with one of the busiest programs in the state.

VanBuskirk said fund-raising efforts were under way by local ranchers to save the program and related position.

Other potential cuts could include replacing a retiring master gardener directorwith an entry-level assistant, reducing office staff hours and days of service.

Certainly we will not be able to function or operate as we have in the past, VanBuskirk said.

The county has asked us in the past to find outside resources or support and certainly we have done that. We've gotten grants, volunteers. We've had to defer over &

36;14,000 worth of maintenance in order to put back into our operational fund.

He said the local Extension Service office would wait to see the level of county funding before specifying which cuts will be enacted.

Buffy Pollock is a free-lance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.