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Weld County Commissioners, Public discuss Extension, 4-H programs

by Bill Jackson
Greeley Tribune

Despite public perception, Weld County commissioners have no intention of closing the office or eliminating the Weld 4-H program, but because of budget issues and other concerns, some staff members at the office may be eliminated.

The commissioners, in an extension services budget analysis, note the extension office, in the Exhibition Building at Greeley’s Island Grove Regional Park, costs $400,500 a year for salaries, service and supplies. Currently, Keith Maxey, the 4-H livestock agent, is the only agent fully funded by the county. The salaries of other agents in the office, including the director, Fred Petersen, is funded by the county and Colorado State University, which contributes $350,000 to $400,000 to the office.

The commissioners, in their analysis, have considered keeping the status of the office as it is, along with four other options. Those options include keeping Maxey, along with Michelle Langston, who is the Weld County Fair coordinator, Sharon Benson, who is the office manager, and hiring three summer 4-H/Fair Staff positions to help with the fair. That option would save the county about $150,000 a year.

Other options include keeping Maxey, Langston and Benson, along with Jean Glowacki, who is a 4-H agent, at either the county level or with the current arrangement with CSU, or letting Maxey go and keeping all others on the staff. The savings to the county would be less.

“We have no intention of abandoning the 4-H program in Weld County,” Commissioner Chairman Bill Jerke said. “This county has a tremendous agricultural tradition and extension, in particular 4-H and the Weld County Fair, has been an important part of that tradition.”

But Jerke and Dave Long said CSU started taking extension in a different direction about three years ago, if not longer, and some of its traditional agricultural services are no longer available.

Jerke said that many of those now involved in production agriculture use seed and fertilizer representatives, cooperatives and the Internet to get the information they need instead of going to extension agents as they have in the past.

A rare crowd showed up at a Weld County commissioners meeting Wednesday to voice support for the Weld County Extension program. The two-and-one-half hour meeting was delayed about 15 minutes at the start to get everyone into the commissioner meeting room, but even then many had to stand in the hallways at the east and west ends of the room.

The meeting was the result of possible funding cuts in the extension program, which would lead to the layoff of one or more agents and support staff at the Island Grove Regional Park office. While the commissioners made it clear they did not intend to shortchange the 4-H program or the Weld County Fair, many who spoke said any cuts made at the office would in one way or another affect 4-H and the operation of the fair.

Commissioner Chairman Bill Jerke said the meeting would have been moved to a different venue if it were known that so many people planned to attend, but he said the original intent of the meeting was to hear from different groups and councils that work closely with extension. There were at least 200 at the meeting.

“This is not really a formal meeting, so we won’t be taking any official action here tonight. But we want to hear from you and from Colorado State University,” Jerke said. Extension is the outreach educational arm of the land grant universities, CSU in the case of Colorado. The enabling legislation was passed by Congress in 1914 and was designed “to provide a program for people as a whole, in a variety of areas,” Deb Young told the commissioners and crowd. She is the state director of extension at CSU.

In the case of Weld, Young said those programs are funded about 60 percent by CSU and 40 percent by the county.

“If we need to change those numbers, then we will figure out a way to do that,” Young said.

JoAnn Powell, the northern Colorado regional director of extension, said Weld has one of the largest and most active 4-H programs in the state, and she said CSU will “take a certain capacity to keep that going, both in developing adult leaders as well as developing life skills for members.”

“We look forward to hammering out the best agreement we can,” she added.

Don Warden, county finance director, explained the county was looking at five options to reduce funding. Those include keeping a minimum of three people at the office and adding part-time summer help to run the fair in the summer, to keeping the status quo, to eliminating two, three or more agents and staff. He and the commissioners noted the same thing is happening to other departments in the county. Warden said in the past year, 50 county employees have been laid off because of budget cuts.

Stuart Gebauer, president of the Weld County Fair Board, admitted he did not have as much information on the situation as he would like to have, but he said the fair board in the past few years has tightened its budget. Terry Weber, representing the Colorado Farm Show, said it was extension that developed the show, heading into its 45th year in 2009, and extension continues to play an important roll in the staging of the show each year.

Bill Hedberg of Greeley is president of the Weld County Extension Advisory Board and said that board has developed a needs assessment study of the extension office in the past couple of years, seeing whether the office could become more efficient and determining whether there was any overlap of programs conducted by extension compared with other programs available in the county.

“Our goal has been to broaden our understanding of what extension is,” he said, adding to date he didn’t think there was any “direct overlap” of any programs. However, Joe Intermill of Ault, another member of that council, said there are some programs “that are awful close” to overlapping with other county and state programs, adding he thought some of the questions in the needs study “were slanted.”

Commissioner Doug Rademacher asked Hedberg to provide the commissioners a written report of that needs assessment.

Teresa Johnson of Kersey is the superintendent of the fair horse show, and she echoed the concerns of many at the meeting when she said, “Any time you reduce agents you are going to reduce programs.”

Mary Kate Stevens of La Salle, a 10-year 4-H member, said the extension staff “is important to the 4-H program, and any position cut would mean 4-H would take a huge loss.”

What’s Next:

The Weld County commissioners appointed a committee comprised of the Weld County 4-H Foundation, Weld County Fair Board, Colorado Farm Show, Weld County Extension Advisory Council and Colorado State University and extension personnel to reach a compromise on any reductions of funding or staffing at the Weld extension office. That compromise must be made before Dec. 15, when the final 2009 Weld County budget will be completed.


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