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Eugene Weekly : News : 4.29.10

Extension Risks Extinction

Measure 20-158 would keep it going

By Deborah Bloom

Lane County’s commitment to OSU’s Extension Service will be tested May 18 by the primary election results of Measure 20-158.  

A county-supported program since 1918, the Extension Service is comprised of a 650-person network that provides research-based educational programs that center around community development. Programs include 4-H Youth Development, Climate Masters, Master Gardeners, Compost Specialists and many more. 

This ballot measure, first proposed by Extension Service supporters and volunteers to the Lane County Board of Commissioners in December, would levy a $.05 increase on every $1,000 of assessed property value — that’s a $10 tax for someone who owns a $200,000 home. The revenue raised, estimated to be $6.2 million by 2015, will be used to supplement the Extension’s educational programs, office operations and support staff.

A local group, Friends4Better Solutions, opposes the measure, describing such a tax-levy to be an inefficient use of taxpayer money. However, another local group, Save Lane Extension, calls the ballot initiative a practical step with measurable outcomes. 

Friends4Better Solutions treasurer Cindy Land said that Lane County’s Extension Service should be self-funded, functioning with a nonprofit business model that generates local profit. “It’s a good program, but it’s not the only program, and it’s not a program that should be funded with taxpayer money,” Land said. “We have a lot of needs in our community.”  

In the past, Lane County has matched its funding for the Extension Service with federal and state monies. Local backing was withdrawn for the Extension Service in 2008 amidst budgetary shortfalls, causing the service to cut back on staff and faculty, pursue grants and contracts, reduce educational programs, increase participation fees and fundraise. However, according to Save Lane Extension publicity chair John Crosiar, these efforts were unsuccessful. “It wasn’t a sustainable business model for the program. By the very laws that established the national program, it’s not how the extension services are meant to operate.” 

The failure to pass Measure 20-158 would, according to the Save Lane Extension website, result in the loss of a “trusted local source of information that teaches self-sufficiency, sustainability and a variety of life skills.” Programs would be reassigned to other Oregon counties and Eugene’s Extension Service volunteer network would disband. 

Land expressed concern over the precedent that would be set by this nominal tax increase. “With 82 different tax service districts, this adds an 83rd. At what point do you break the taxpayers’ back?”

“There are many people who rely on this, especially many low-income people,” said Crosiar. “This is the most cost-effective way to do this.” 

“With the recent increase in food gardening, the availability of a food safety resource is imperative,” wrote Karren Cholewinski of the Extension Service Lane County office in a letter to the editor last week, referring to the Master Food Preservation program. “The state-funded faculty member supplies the practical research-based training, volunteer management and food safety/safe food handling instruction.”