Citizens question Casey's plan to drop 4-H agent

April 14, 2004|BRENDA EDWARDS

LIBERTY - Concerns over a plan to have a part-time 4-H assistant rather than a full-time agent were heard Tuesday night by the Casey County Extension Council and two representatives from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

The Extension Council agreed in February to do away with a full-time 4-H agent due to an estimated $23,000 shortfall in the 2004-2005 budget, and to hire a person 20 hours a week for $10,000 a year, with no benefits. The family and consumer sciences and agriculture agents would assist the part-time person and use volunteers to help run the 4-H program.

The council met in special session Tuesday to hear concerns about the plan but took no action.

The $114,736 budget that comes from local property and vehicle tax will be presented to Casey Fiscal Court and UK before the final decision is made.

Concerns about money set aside for new building


One of the main concerns was $13,000 set aside for a new building with a larger conference room. The Extension Council agreed 15 years ago to start saving to construct the building, said Fred Harper, council treasurer. Another $11,000 was reserved for sick pay and retirement benefits for the extension secretary.

The council and homemakers organization have been working toward the new building, and commitments have been made concerning the project, Johnson said. The building has been designed, and the materials have been ordered.

Debbie Shepherd, extension agent for family and consumer sciences, said the building was ordered before the cutbacks in the local extension program were made.

"My concern is making a financial commitment for additional meeting space, when it seems to me the kids are more important," said Angela Parker, a mother of three children.

"That is not an issue; that was planned 12 years ago," said Tracy Rodenbach, council treasurer.

"I have children, and I'm concerned that if we lose 4-H, that is another benefit gone for them. Maybe the children should come first," said Parker. "I'd hate to see us lose it." She fears if the 4-H program is changed, it will never get a full-time agent again.

UK does not support losing 4-H program

Carol Benson, 5th District director, said UK does not support losing the 4-H program. "We have asked the extension service to come up with more money, and we recognize it is a hardship," she said.

While the county has been without an agricultural agent since Tommy Yankey left in September, the money for his salary does not come to the county. It belongs to UK, she said.

She also said UK is trying to hire an ag agent, but with the $27,000 salary offered, it is difficult to find someone.

The decision to change the 4-H program is up to the county Extension Council, according to Larry Turner, associate dean for extension at UK. He said a hiring freeze is on at UK, but if the council chooses to have a two-agent office, UK will try to fill the ag agent's position sooner.

Of Kentucky's 120 counties, seven have two-agent extension programs. "I'm concerned if we move to a two-agent county, it will be harder to attract a person needed in those positions," said Turner.

"If you make the choice (two-agent program), it will be five to 10 years to get back to a three-agent county," said Turner. "It's rare to get back (to three agents). This needs to be considered carefully; if this can be worked out, we'll try to help."

Parker said without a 4-H agent to help in the school clubs, it will be hard for children who live in the county to participate in activities because of the distance and transportation. She also expressed concern about overloading the two agents with 4-H programs.

Funds for programs cut to $1,500

Concern also was expressed about cutting funds for 4-H programs from $3,000 to $1,500.

"The $1,500 can't touch the programs we've had," said Jan Atwood, 4-H agent. She said the programs get support from other sources such as fund-raisers and donations. She said the $1,500 would mean that each 4-H'er would get $1 annually for programs.

"I have a hard time believing that the council thinks two agents can do it (the 4-H program)," said Atwood. She said activities are planned on weekends for seven of the next eight weeks.

A woman questioned the building being more important that the 4-H program. "It sounds like you made that decision and nothing else matters," said Phyllis Williams.

Before a final decision is made, Rodenbach said, the council will consider all of the suggestions made. The budget has to be presented to Fiscal Court by Thursday. UK needs the budget by May 20.

The Casey County Extension District Board that plans the budget will meet at 1 p.m. April 21 and review the suggestions.

Johnson said while the county is without an ag agent, agents from surrounding counties are helping out with farm programs but they can't be expected to help indefinitely.

"It wasn't planned to leave any organization out, but when you're short of money, you have to do what you have to do," he said.

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