Archive for Tuesday, March 2, 2010

County commission discusses extension office merger

A World War I doughboy statue stands outside the Leavenworth County Courthouse.

A World War I doughboy statue stands outside the Leavenworth County Courthouse.

March 2, 2010

In an effort to combat the troubled economy, the Leavenworth County and Wyandotte County extension offices are continuing to work toward a merger.

At Monday’s Leavenworth County Commission meeting, members of both offices talked with the board about the benefits of joining the two, along with the importance of preserving the programs offered in each county.

In September 2009, the Leavenworth County office began discussing the possibility of forming one extension district with Wyandotte County to try to solve its money problems.

Brian Habjan, who serves on the Kansas State University Research and Extension board for the county, and Bruce Chladny, director for the Wyandotte County Extension Service, told commissioners Monday a merger would allow the counties to pool resources and give their agents the opportunity to specialize in their fields, but would also allow each county to keep its separate office.

“This isn’t a new process,” Habjan said, adding more than 25 counties had formed 10 consolidated districts to sustain their programs.

To form the district, the commissioners from each county would need to allow the district to become a taxing authority similar to a library board. If this occurred, the county could use money it’s budgeted for the extension office in another way.

The county has budgeted $280,287 for the extension office in 2010. The district would likely not be formed until 2011, however, Chladny said.

“We have no personal gains except to see change in our communities, to see positive change in people’s health and the environment,” Chladny said of consolidation.

Giving the extension offices the authority to tax was a point of concern for commissioners John Flower and J.C. Tellefson.

“Right now, I see programs, and I see dollars expended, and we want to expand, and there’s potential to spend more. And I’m not on that ship,” Flower said. “That leaves me a little cold.”

If joined, the district would create a committee with eight members – four selected by each county commission – that would control its budget with a maximum mill levy of 2.5. The board members would thereafter be publicly elected. Tellefson said he was uneasy about the possibility of the levy being increased.

“The reality is, we all hang our hats on interlocal agreements, but some committee can come along and say, ‘You know we don’t like this interlocal agreement, and we can raise the levy 2.5 mills,’” Tellefson said. “I like the program, but I’m deeply concerned by this aspect of the thing. It’s not something I’m ready to buy into yet.”

Habjan said he understood the commissioners’ concerns but did not think the levy would be raised in such a way. He added the existing consolidated districts had a track record of lowering the levy.

“There’s potential to go up, but I’d hope that the folks governing this body would be fiscally responsible,” he said. “The people on this board are going to be elected like yourselves, and if they raise taxes…, they’re going to be on the firing line.”

The board tabled the item, 3-0, until it had more information and a more solid idea of Wyandotte County’s intentions for the matter.

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