Commissioners tell Leavenworth County Extension to get leaner
Proposed sharp budget cuts brought a few sharp exchanges as the Leavenworth County Commission’s 2011 budget hearings Tuesday featured Leavenworth County Extension.
County Administrator Heather Morgan recommended the county fund extension at $226,287 for 2011, or $54,000 less than the $280,288 requested and the level of 2010 county funding. If approved, extension’s county funding would be $106,500 less than in 2009.
Brain Habjan, treasurer of the Leavenworth County Extension Council, said the cuts were disproportionate to those of other county-funded agencies and departments. Extension had taken cost-saving steps, including moving to a new building at a savings of $10,000 a year, he said.
Commissioner John Flower countered the proposed budget reflected his concerns, especially when he compared extension’s level of staffing to those of county departments, such as the register of deeds, county clerk and the appraiser’s office.
“The bottom line is, I’ve asked and asked and asked, and I don’t see what extension does,” he said.
Extension’s nutrition and safety net food programs duplicated those the county health department offered, and the financial counseling it offered was available in many places in the county, Flower said.
Commissioner J.C. Tellefson also said the agency needed to get leaner. He suggested that rather than just cut across the board, extension should eliminate programs. He also suggested it merge with the Leavenworth County Soil Conservation District.
Extension’s board had cover for any program eliminations because commissioners forced it on them, Tellefson said. But he did take exception when Habjan said calls from 4-H’ers not able to go to camp would be forwarded to commissioners.
That, Tellefson said, would be the extension’s board decision and one that could be rectified by not sending all three county agents to camp. He also noted $12,000 remained of the requested $14,000 in travel funding used to pay for youth trips.
Left unchallenged was Habjan’s assertion that program eliminations like Tellefson had advocated would be needed with the cuts. Commissioners told Denise Sullivan, extension director, and Habjan that Tuesday’s hearing was only the first budget discussion, a point also made to representatives of Leavenworth County Conservation District.
Soil conservation requested $25,000 for 2011, the same amount as 2010. The county administrator’s recommendation, however, was to not provide any funding for the agency in the coming year.
Such a move could close the county district office, requiring residents to get services in Jefferson County, said Susan Garrett, district manager. The district helped county residents secure last year about $24,500 in grants for soil conservation measures and another $24,000 in grants to address septic problems or cap wells, she said.
That activity would decrease should the local conservation office close, Garrett said.
Tellefson said he understood the importance of terraces, waterways and ponds for soil conservation, but he did question the district’s educational programs, which he said should be left to extension. He also objected to the county paying to administer a program that had no staff person to “put stakes in the field.”
Flower wondered if the district could continue to be effective at its current level of funding and invited Garrett to apply for more money.
“If you can show 70 percent of the job is not getting done every year — if we have a back log and are not providing good serve because it takes more money — lets hear about it,” he said.