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NDSU Extension Service faces $4.3 million in proposed state budget cuts

The North Dakota State University Extension Service faces a more than 14 percent budget cut for the coming biennium. Both chambers of the state Legislature propose cutting Extension Service funding this legislative session, which is contained in ...

The NDSU Extension Service may see about a $4.3 million budget cut compared with last biennium, which could affect the service's ability to fill open positions. Press File Photo
The NDSU Extension Service may see about a $4.3 million budget cut compared with last biennium, which could affect the service's ability to fill open positions. Press File Photo

The North Dakota State University Extension Service faces a more than 14 percent budget cut for the coming biennium.

Both chambers of the state Legislature propose cutting Extension Service funding this legislative session, which is contained in Senate Bill 2020. The bill is still in conference committee, so no final decisions have been made. However, current legislation has about $4.3 million less than the service's 2015-17 budget, said Chris Boerboom, director of the NDSU Extension Service.

"As this goes through, extension is going to have less capacity, less people to do the educational programs that people have known us to do," he said. "Some of it is going to affect staffing at the county level, some of it will affect staffing at the research extension centers and some of it will affect staffing on campus at NDSU. It's going to touch everybody at some point."

Jim Gray, district director for the southwest district office, asked the Stark County Commission last week if it wanted to prioritize filling the family and consumer science agent position at the Stark/Billings County Extension location. The commission voted unanimously to fill the role.

Commission Chairman Jay Elkin said the Extension Service plays an important role by providing the county with agriculture-related information. Elkin recently completed training through the service to renew his license to spray chemicals - such as pesticides, herbicides and insecticides - on his crops. The Extension Service also provides ranchers with new information about livestock breeding, feeding and diseases.

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"The Legislature, let's face it, they've been dealt with a situation of declining income and trying to support what they can support," Elkin said. "Now it's going to be up to political interests to support our local political subdivisions to support those programs that we deem necessary - and extension services I believe is very necessary in a rural setting such as Dickinson, North Dakota or Stark County."

The family and consumer science role also works closely with youth programs such as 4-H, Elkin said.

"I think that's vitally important, too - piquing (children's) interest in agriculture, helping groom them in learning more and getting a better understanding as to agriculture," he said. "I think it's great what they do."

Gray also pointed to the county's "robust" 4-H program, and agriculture and natural resources programs the Extension Service helps with.

"We are a source of neutral, science-based information, and we offer educational programs in a variety of areas, and so what we hear from citizens is they place high value in those educational programs," Gray said. "We want to make sure that we continue to offer those educational programs to make meaningful contributions in people's lives and to local communities."

The county Extension Services are split between county government and the state. The state handles the fringe benefits of employees, they split salary costs and the county pays for operating expenses. Proposed cuts could affect a county agent's ability to travel and take part in professional development trainings, Gray said.

The Extension Service is now working to ensure it still delivers the programs that fit the county's needs, he said.

But because about 82 percent of the Extension Service's budget is in people, that money cannot all come out of operating expenses, Boerboom said. The service has been freezing positions after people retire or leave until its budget is finalized and it can be determined which positions to prioritize.

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Boerboom said that though he understands the state's financial struggle, county Extension agents and Extension specialists at NDSU and across the state work hard to provide these services for their counties, which makes these cuts even harder.

"They're doing just fantastic work," Boerboom said. "There are so many good stories and impacts that they are doing that it makes it really disheartening when we have to go through reductions like this and know that we're not going to be able to serve some of the needs that people are asking for. ... We're just trying to maintain the best service that we can."

Related Topics: STARK COUNTY
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