Archive for Thursday, September 17, 2009

Extension offices consider consolidation

September 17, 2009

The Leavenworth County Extension office is having a cash problem.

To fix it, the Leavenworth County Extension Board is looking to Wyandotte County for help.

“It’s a situation that as we look at the reduced funding for 2010, we are going to be pulling quite a bit of reserves just to operate,” said Dale Fjell, Kansas State University’s northeast area director for the extension program. “We are just two or three years away from not having any money.”

During the Sept. 8 monthly extension board meeting, Fjell said he’s been getting some favorable responses from extension leaders in Wyandotte County about creating a new extension district.

By forming a district, Fjell said, the county would be able to pool its resources together and allow their agents to specialize in their field, but would also allow each county to keep its separate offices.

Currently, 25 counties in the state have created nine different consolidated districts.

In order to form the district, Fjell said the commissioners from each county would need to allow the district to become a taxing authority similar to a library board.

By doing so, Fjell said it would allow the county to take whatever money it has budgeted for the extension office off the books or move it somewhere else.

The county has budgeted $280,287 for the extension office in 2010.

Fjell said by becoming a taxing entity in both Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties, the tax burden for the Leavenworth County residents will be lessened because of the larger tax base in Wyandotte County.

“That’s what happens when you combine two counties,” he said. “If one is bigger than the other, one’s taxes will go up a little bit, the other’s (taxes) will go down. We’re on the side that’s going down.”

The idea of districting with Wyandotte County was briefly mentioned during this year’s budget talks with the county, Fjell said.

If the governing bodies of both counties were on board, they would need to pass a resolution stating the counties intent to form a district and then allow for a 60-day protest period.

“If (residents) don’t want this to happen, they can get a petition together and make this go on a public ballot,” Fjell said.

The districting would also require an operational agreement signed by both county commissioners and the extension board and approval from the Kansas Attorney General.

The board unanimously voted to continue exploring this option.

Denise Sullivan, Leavenworth County extension director and family and consumer sciences agent, and Mike Epler, Leavenworth County agricultural agent, said they were on board with the idea.

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