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Communities finding ways to save local Extension programs
As local governments look at budgets for the next year, several county Extension programs are facing complete cuts in funding. But communities that have faced similar fates overcame the challenges to maintain their Extension programs through a local tax levy.
Options when funding is cut: Morrow County
Morrow County 4-H volunteer and advisory committee member, and newly elected Ohio Farm Bureau Northwest Women’s Trustee, Eddie Lou Meimer was a part of one such tax levy campaign.
"We had been working off of a bare bones budget to begin with when the commissioners came to us and said they were sorry but that we were going to have to do a levy because they just didn't have the funds," she said.
A group of 25-30 volunteers, including Meimer, stepped up and formed a committee to focus on developing an approach to getting a levy passed to support Extension programs in Morrow County.
"We were looking for big farmers, little farmers, non-ag people that were involved in 4-H and just anybody that might be interested in helping Extension," she said. "The idea was to let people know how a total Extension program would benefit them, not just farmers, but all parts of the community."
The levy would raise taxes on a $100,000 appraisal by $17. Meimer said that they explained this to people by comparing it to the cost of a large pizza, to make it easier to comprehend.
Options when funding is cut: Van Wert County
Van Wert County faced a similar situation and also formed a committee to campaign for a tax levy. Cheri Oechsle, marketing director at Niswonger Performing Arts Center and a 4-H supporter, served as the chair of the publicity subcommittee.
"It is important to find key people and utilize their strengths," Oechsle said.
The committee used testimonials from those impacted by Extension programs to create videos and ads, and Oechsle used her experience as a marketing director to more effectively target ads.
"A lot of what we did was knowing the demographics and having one-on-one conversations about Extension with people," she said. "It was a lot of beating on doors and getting our information in people's faces."
The levies in Morrow and Van Wert counties both passed, and will face a renewal campaign in a few years. Other counties also have pursued other options such as raising private funds.
These two counties faced losing not only local funding but also state and federal funding. By working working together these communities were able to show the value of Extension programs, and use that to successfully maintain local funding.
State funding challenges and county presence
If a county loses all county funding they lose all state and federal dollars as well because funds are distributed on a matching basis, but state funds have seen cuts as well.
In the last biennium budget discussions at the Statehouse, Ohio State University Extension faced major cuts to state funding. In preparation for the potential cuts, Extension planned a restructuring that included moving to more field specialists in a regional system.
When Extension didn’t see the level of budget cuts that were projected, the majority of planned changes did not have to be made, but some insights from counties emerged in the process.
“We heard loud and clearly that counties value, first and foremost, having a 4-H youth development educator as a major priority,” said Beverly Kelbaugh, OSU Extension south central region director. “We made sure that we gave counties the ability to have that 4-H youth development educator. We have either a 4-H educator or 4-H program coordinator in every county in the state at this point.”
Kelbaugh said that if a county can't meet the local 40 percent cost on an educator, they are asking them to look to a neighboring county and try to share resources, and she said that several counties are doing this in some capacity.
Even with state budget discussions coming again soon, Kelbaugh said Extension is committed to maintain as much county presence as possible.