Casey County wants to drop 4-H agent

March 23, 2004|BRENDA EDWARDS

LIBERTY - Casey County Cooperative Extension Service likely will only have two agents instead of three on July 1, due to state and federal budget cuts.

The county Extension Service District Board has voted to become a two-agent county and keep its agricultural and family and consumer services agents. However, instead of having a fulltime 4-H agent, a part-time program assistant and volunteer leaders will operate the 1,000-member 4-H program.

The board made the decision Feb. 18 after learning of pending cutbacks in funds from the county school board and the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, and the increased costs to be borne by the county, according to minutes from the meeting. The vote was unanimous.

Carol Benson, director of the 18-county extension District 5, said UK has asked the counties to contribute more money to help pay for the program due to federal and state budget constraints. This amounts to several thousand dollars increase in some situations, she said.


She has not seen the final draft of the Casey County budget and said the final decision has to be made through the cooperative effort of the Casey extension district board and UK.

The Casey board expects to be more than $20,000 short on its budget for the 2004-2005 fiscal year, said Fred Harper, board treasurer.

"We had to make a decision and decided we could not afford the third agent," Harper said.

He said the board has informed UK of its decision. The board does not want to jeopardize the 4-H program and will distribute the work between the two remaining agents.

This means Jan Atwood, 4-H agent, would no longer hold that position. The county already is without an agricultural agent since Tommy Yankey left in October. Debbie Shepherd is currently the family and consumer services agent.

"We are not sacrificing the 4-H agent for the sake of anything else, the county has always catered to 4-H," Harper said.

He said the county pays the base pay for the third agent. UK determines what that pay is and indicated it will notify the local extension service of other expenses that may arise later this year.

The county pays between $45,000 and $50,000 annually for salaries for the secretary and 4-H agent plus other contributions, Harper said. The county also pays for utilities, maintenance on the building and transportation costs.

"I realize this decision is not one that makes people happy, but we can't help it," said Harper. "We have had several volunteers who have said they will help us all they can."

Shepherd said a lot of discussion went into the decision because the county wants to make sure the 4-H program will not suffer. She said several volunteers agreed to help the 4-H program assistant keep the program going.

The program assistant will be trained and has to be supervised by the other two agents.

"We will see more and more of this type of 4-H programs because of budget restraints," Shepherd said. "The program won't suffer if people in the county help and fill in the gaps," she said.

Shepherd said it not uncommon to run the 4-H program with an assistant. She said Robertson, Clinton, Taylor, McQueary and Nicholas counties have two-agent programs.

Although the budget cuts have made a difference in the operation of the extension service, they will not have any effect on plans for a new multi-purpose room. The county has set aside money to build the meeting place for extension programs and the community.

"We started saving for the multi-purpose room 12 years ago. We have enough money to pay for the building which is a one-time expense," said Harper.

The building has been ordered sooner than expected because steel prices are expected to rise substantially after March 31.

The county has been without an agriculture agent since October when Yankey left. Ann Leigh, who has been secretary for many years, also will retire at the end of April. Neither has been replaced.

Benson said UK hopes to replace Yankey soon, but some counties have had vacancies for more than a year, partially due to budget cuts. Applications have been taken for Leigh's position.

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