Extension Service fate in hands of voters

Extension Service fate in hands of voters »Play Video

EUGENE, Ore. -- Voters are being asked to decide the future of the Oregon State University Extension Service in Lane County.

The Extension Service, which offers the 4-H and Master Gardeners programs, among others, lost local funding in 2008, when Lane County pulled it's annual $560,000 allocation.

Measure 20-158 asks voters to pay a five-year local option tax levy to fund the Extension Service.  If the measure does not pass, most of programs would stop by Sept. 30 of this year.

Owners of a home valued at $200,000 would pay $10 a year.  The levy would raise about $1.2 million dollars each year for the next five years and pay for things like program expenses, rent, outreach expenses and support positions.  

Supporters say it's a small price to pay for the many services.

"There are many people who are trying to learn new skills of survival and sustainabilIty," said Annetta Forrer, an Extension volunteer and member of Save Lane Extension.  "Without the Extension, I don't know who they'll go to. It's not just a hobby, it really is a matter of giving us the ability to take of ourselves and our families better."

But opponents charge the property tax levy is excessive.

"Good programs, worthy of continuing but the tax levy is the wrong approach," said Cliff Kelley, the director of Friends 4 Better Solutions, a group opposing the measure.

The group would like OSU to find another way to pay for Extension Service.

Kelley, a former 4-H group leader, suggested a model with a regional hub organizing volunteers for multiple counties.  

"If OSU would say we're going to use the funds in this way to say we're going to benefit the kids, the Master Gardeners, the food preservers, I'd be a big supporter of it," said Kelley.  "But they're not. And they've really avoided that." 

Forrer pointed out, by law, counties are required to provide some funding to keep an Extension Service.

"If we lose the local funding, the federal and state funding will be pulled out of this area and sent to other counties where there is local support for it," she said.

If the measure does not pass, two local support staff employees would be laid off and faculty would be reassigned to other counties or to the OSU campuss, said Steve Dodrill, OSU Extension Service Lane County Staff Chair.