Extension budget situation improves, but local officials still concerned

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The news that surplus funds from a prison building project will be allocated to help make up budget shortfalls for University of Missouri Extension is a mixed blessing, said Extension Council President Mary Ann Gilpin Friday, Feb. 13.

"It's good news, bad news," Gilpin said. "Good news that they've found $10 million, but we are still $5 million short."

Funding for Extension programs comes from several sources, not all of them state sources. About 15 percent comes from federal sources, 16 percent from counties, 28 percent from federal and state grants and contracts and other sources. A little less than half, 41 percent, comes directly from the state.

But, as Rhonda Gibler, assistant vice provost for Extension pointed out, the state funding is "the cornerstone" of all the rest of the funding.

"Our budget is a set of partnerships, where programs are interwoven and funds are leveraged on each other. (The cuts) would impact every single program we do," Gibler said.

Gilpin echoed Gibler's comments.

"It's vital that we have this money -- federal funds and county funds depend on it -- it's a ripple effect," Gilpin said.

Gilpin pointed out that Extension is not, as some may believe, only for farmers and other Missourians in rural areas.

"(Extension) is part of public higher education for the state and it's not just for the county and people that live in the country, but for the people in urban areas, too. It's state-wide, a school of teaching, not just for 4-H and farmers," she said.

"4-H is most visible, but anybody is welcome to go into the office whether you have a gardening question or a financial question. Finances are issue right now for everyone (and) Extension has programs on how to handle money, how to make it through life."

Gilpin said the challenge now is to keep the budget issue in front of the legislature and the public.

"We need to keep up the good work of communicating our value. It's not over until it's over. Going into the legislative process, MU-Extension should be treated no differently than all of public higher education in the state," she said.

Local legislative representatives support Gilpin and Extension.

State Rep. Joe Aull said he's "glad to see that at least some of the money is going back ... It's a tough year (and) everybody's going to get hit (but) Extension got slashed pretty deep.

Aull agreed with Gilpin that there may be a communication issue for Extension to overcome.

"Maybe (the cuts were made) because of a lack of understanding of what the services are that extension provides to counties. (Some) think it's all for agriculture, but ... people may not realize how wide-ranging and wide-reaching their programs are. Extension ... touches so many people in so many counties."

State Senator Bill Stouffer also supports Extension's efforts to get the lost funding restored and recommended county residents "keep up the pressure."

In his weekly newsletter, released Thursday, Feb. 12, Stouffer wrote, "If the governor's office hadn't heard from you, we would still be looking at a 50 percent cut. Like me, the governor works for you and should be responsive to your needs. Make sure he knows how you still feel."

Contact Kathy Fairchild at marshallhealth@socket.net

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