Extension service fears cuts will reduce services

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Posted: Monday, July 15, 2013 12:00 am

A $40,000 budget cut for the Extension Service of Douglas and Sarpy Counties will result in fewer services, the Sarpy County Board was told June 25.

Deanna L. Vansickel, program director, said the Douglas County Board of Commissioners is planning to reduce its contribution to the shared program to $401,000. Sarpy County, which contributes $115,000, has announced no plans to make cuts of its own.

Vansickel said previous cuts eliminated all expendable operational expenses. The Douglas County cut will mean reducing the support staff that makes it possible for extension faculty to do their work.

The Extension Service, which is funded primarily by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has a presence in all 93 Nebraska counties. The service provides education and training in many agriculture-related topics, including crop raising, backyard gardening, 4-H programs, irrigation and public health.

The Douglas-Sarpy office receives $1.5 million from UNL, which is used to pay salary and benefits for university faculty members assigned to the service.

Vansickel said Douglas County’s $441,000 payment, along with Sarpy County’s $115,000, has paid for 13 support personnel ranging from an accountant to assistants for the 4-H and horticulture programs, as well as information technology personnel. One employee is dedicated to Sarpy County, at a cost of $78,000 in pay and benefits.

If that support is reduced, she said, the faculty members will be unable to maintain their current productivity. But the bad news for the Extension Service might not be over.

Commissioner Don Kelly asked if Douglas County’s “unilateral” reduction might trigger a reduction in Sarpy County’s contribution.

Sarpy County Administrator Mark Wayne said Thursday that Douglas County’s decision could permit Sarpy County to reduce its contribution by as much as $10,000, although commissioners have decided to wait until Vansickle reports back before making a decision.

Vansickle told commissioners she is creating a comprehensive report outlining all the services Sarpy County receives from the Extension Service. The agreement merging Sarpy County’s extension program with Douglas County’s is 13 years old, she said, and should be reviewed.

“Its time to go back and take a look at those agreements that were made a long time ago and update to see where we’re at,” she said. “I don’t think they’ve been looked at for quite some time.”

The joint Extension Service maintains offices in two locations. A large office is located at 8015 W. Center Road in Omaha, with a smaller one located at 501 Olson Drive in Papillion. Both offices are owned by their respective county governments and are provided to the Extension Service rent-free.

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