SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Dr. Jim Wirth, a human development specialist for Greene County Extension, is being moved from Greene County to Taney County in response to budget cuts from the Greene County Commission. According to Jay Chism, Southwest Region director for MU Extension, Wirth’s move will be final in July.
“He is being moved to a county where the County Commission provides adequate funding for the local office and is able to provide the support he needs to be able to do his job,” said Chism. “Greene County has had a great interest in programs related to families, elderly and human development. But, this move makes meeting those needs much more difficult and creates a lot of challenges for our volunteer council.”
The announcement was made on May 27 during the monthly meeting of the Greene County Extension Council. “I want to thank the Council for doing everything possible as a volunteer group to survive from financial drowning,” said Wirth. “I’ve been in Greene County for 16 years.
Wirth is in the process of canceling most of his scheduled late summer, fall and winter programs in Greene County. One exception will be the four training sessions he has planned for childcare providers in Springfield.
During his time in Greene County, Wirth offered programs related to childcare, marriage, parenting, seniors, aging, personal, professional and workforce development, interpersonal relations, leadership development, citizen engagement, diversity and healthy living.
Since 1999, Wirth has delivered 2,519 programs on 137 different topics in Greene County to 60,052 attendees. “Besides the breadth and depth of program offerings, there is the impact of reaching over 60,000 program attendees in face-to-face programs,” said Wirth. “And the conference presentations were multiple and they show that Extension impact is broader than the local area.”
HISTORY OF FUNDING CUTS
The Greene County Extension Center is maintained as a partnership between the Greene County Commission and the University of Missouri. But in recent years, funding from the Greene County Commission has fallen far below the amount needed to maintain a local office even though the county office provided educational programs for over 25,000 people during 2011.
“The budget reduction by the Greene County Commission to the state minimum of $10,000 for Extension in 2012 has forced the council to make additional, dramatic, changes,” said Carl Allison, chairman of the Greene County Extension Council. “This is the type of thing we said would happen when the county announced a second year of minimum funding back in January.”
University of Missouri fully funds the salaries, benefits, training, and computer support, for the five specialists headquartered in Greene County. County funds are used to pay administrative assistants and office expenses like the telephone, copies, office supplies, some postage and travel for specialists conducting programs.
“For three years now we have pulled from our reserves to fulfill our mission after the Commission cut our budget. But, we also know we can’t cut ourselves to prosperity, we need additional county funding to survive,” said Allison.
In 2009, the County allocated $95,000 to the publically elected Greene County Extension Council. The local office also generated about $25,000 as part of an annual office budget of $115,000.
In 2010, the County Commission voted to allocate $27,000 to the local office as a savings measure and the local office began to draw heavily from reserve funds, even after making cuts. The Commission repeated the allocation of $27,000 (a 72% percent cut from previous years) with the 2011 budget. The 2012 and 2013 budgets were a 90% cut to the amount requested by council.
By state law, every first class county funds an Extension office with a minimum of $10,000. That amount was set in 1961 and would need to be $72,000 now to have the same buying power. Those funds are used to pay office costs and fund an administrative assistant. Funding from the Greene County Commission for Extension has not been at or below $10,000 since the 1950s.
CUTTING TO THE BONE
“The local Greene County Extension Council has instituted many cuts and revenue generating ideas over the past five years in an effort to balance the budget,” said Allison. “Those cuts have kept this county office open but the reserves are running out.”
Educational programs at the Greene County Extension Center draw people from other counties in to Greene County where they spend money and then take what they have learned back home to improve their own communities. The regional specialists in the Greene County office conduct programs that impact the entire region but they also do good work for Greene County.
Wirth told the council that he thought Extension could be compared to a “full menu shop.”
“But, we are becoming less than a full-menu even though the demand is still there. Because of county budget cuts, the infrastructure does not exist to continue as a full menu operation which means we end up only partially supporting things like 4-H, health programs, gardening programs. My fear is that with limited menus offered, perceptions begin to follow the reality that Extension is a limited menu,” said Wirth.
Many volunteers are involved with raising funds and awareness to prevent the extincition of Extension in Greene County.
“From a regional perspective, the Greene County office is one of our flagship so a cut of this magnitude is troubling for our organization, our staff and the people we serve,” said Chism. “The biggest concern is that these changes reduce services to the residents of Greene County.”
Since 1914, Greene County residents have sought help from Extension in areas related to agriculture, gardening, 4-H youth, nutrition, families, business and community development. Members of “Friends of Greene County Extension” contribute financially to make it possible for Extension to continue having a positive impact on the quality of life in Greene County, Mo. To learn how you can help go online to http://extension.missouri.edu/greene/giving.aspx or call the Greene County Extension Center at (417) 881-8909.
Greene County loses extension specialist to cuts
Human development specialist transferred to Taney County
Prepared by News-Leader staff, published News-Leader June 19, 2013
Information for both provided by MU Extension Southwest Region News Service