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Extension district measure offers benefits for a bargain

When tax measures come up for a vote, it's easy to automatically be against them if "it doesn't affect me." Close examination of Measure 15-121 to fund the Jackson County OSU Extension Service, though, will show that every citizen of the county is positively affected by the Extension, and it's a real bargain. "The what?" you say. "What is the Extension?"

A little history: more than 150 years ago, Congress created land grant universities in every state to provide scientific agricultural and engineering education. Oregon State University is our land grant university.

Eventually, it was recognized that agricultural education should be located close to farmers and ranchers who often couldn't travel to their land grant university. Thus, extensions of these universities were established to bring the knowledge and methods to them.

In Jackson County, the OSU Extension Service was established 100 years ago and is now situated on land owned by Jackson County. Since 1995, the Extension has become part of the Southern Oregon Research & Extension Center (SOREC) on Hanley Road.

The Extension includes 4-H and other youth programs, Master Gardeners, Master Food Preservers, Livestock and Forage Programs, Forestry and Small Woodlands Programs, Land Steward Program, Small Farms Program, programs for seniors and those with chronic illnesses, fruit tree and vineyard research programs.

The Extension is supported through federal, state and local funds plus contracts and grants, but the federal and state funds are contingent upon receiving local funds. If local funds stop, so do the federal and state funds. For the past 100 years, local funds have come from the Jackson County general fund. Because of budget shortfalls, the Extension support from the general fund could end in June of this year. The Extension must find a new source of local funding or possibly close.

Friends of Research and Extension has been successful in placing a measure on the May 2014 ballot to form the Jackson County 4-H, Master Gardener and Agricultural Extension Service District with a permanent property tax not to exceed 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. For the average homeowner, the maximum amount that could be levied would be less than $8 per year.

So why care about the Extension? How does the Extension affect me if I'm not involved in agriculture? How is this such a bargain for everyone? The answer to these questions: Economic benefits of Extension affect every person in Jackson County.

Currently, for every $1 the Research and Extension Center receives from Jackson County, $8.48 is put directly back into the local economy. Thirty-one jobs and over 40,000 annual volunteer hours (value of over $850,000) contribute to our economy.

Extension also supports our county's economy indirectly. Agriculture, one of the largest employers in Jackson County, depends on the Extension for the latest scientific findings and emerging regulations affecting the $86 million agriculture and food-processing industries. Secondary benefits from these industries radiate into every business and home in the Rogue Valley.

Ever buy at the Growers Market? Extension helps small farms stay in business. Plants in your yard looking sickly? The Master Gardener Plant Clinic will, for free, diagnose the problem and prescribe solutions. Buy at a nursery, have a yard service, or hire a landscaper? Many employed by those businesses receive training at the Extension. Want to know more about raising your favorite plants, preserving the food you grow, food safety, senior health or chronic health problems? Extension annually holds more than 900 classes open to the public, including classes on healthful eating, physical activity, smart shopping, and cooking skills as well as gardening. Ever buy seeds to start plants? The Extension enables the county's emerging seed business to thrive. Worried about forest fires this summer? The Extension provides programs for fire-hazard reduction, weed abatement, soil and water conservation along with streamside and forest restoration programs. Have children who are interested in computers, robotics, sewing, gardening or animals? 4-H has evolved into a program for urban as well as rural youth, with time management and financial accountability as core skills. The Extension's 4-H programs reach more than 3,000 students annually.

Financial support and objective science-based information are both provided for local schools (2013 — over $5,000) and community gardens (2013 — $5,000) by the Extension. OSU scholarships are given to Jackson County students (2013 — $5,000).

All this will continue to be available for less than $8 per year for the average homeowner if Measure 15-121 passes — truly a great bargain for the citizens of Jackson County.

Jane Moyer lives in Central Point.