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'Funding cuts leads to more Extension moves

We have to find different ways of working'

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

Funding reductions are forcing the University of Minnesota Extension Service to once again examine its role.

The Extension Service, which last year trimmed 43 jobs in a reorganization and earlier this year announced 16 layoffs, is moving toward a new structure.

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Instead of offices in all 87 counties, 18 to 22 regional offices will be located across the state. Five to 10 regional Extension educators and a regional Extension director will have an office at the regional site. The regional offices are set to be operating by January.

"I think we have to find different ways of working," Extension dean and director Charles Casey said. "I think all public agencies are being asked to work in different ways."

Flat federal funding and an anticipated 10 percent reduction in state funding spurred the latest reorganization. Counties also face cuts in local government aid, which comes from the state, and perhaps a freeze on their ability to increase property taxes.

County government budgets are mostly consumed by mandated services -- in Stearns County, for example, health and human service costs eat up 40 percent of the county's nearly $87 million budget -- while Extension is not mandated. As county commissioners discuss their budgets and make plans for cuts, they will have to decide what type of Extension expertise they want and weigh that against available dollars.

"Counties will decide what kind of Extension Service they want in their county as far as an office is concerned," said Neil Broadwater, who's been an Extension educator since 1976. County governments pay about 26 percent of the cost of the Extension Service, with 42 percent from the state government through the University of Minnesota, 17 percent from the federal government and the remainder through grants, fees and gifts. The annual budget is about $62 million.

Broadwater, who is the county Extension director for Winona and Houston counties, said counties may decide to hire an Extension educator to work just in their county, but they will have to pick up the entire salary cost, instead of splitting the cost with the U of M, as is the case now.

Counties may also band together to hire an educator with expertise in a certain specialty, splitting the cost. Or they can rely on educators housed at regional centers, funded by state and federal funding, to supply expertise.

"The whole thing is counties have choices now," Broadwater said. "It's based on what people want and what the county board decides."

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