WSU Extension Offices Statewide Prepare for I-695 Program Cuts Up To 53 Percent

“Washington State University Cooperative Extension offices statewide are readying themselves for budget cuts as officials attempt to reconcile reductions in the wake of the passage of Initiative 695.“I-695 is affecting nearly all counties and significantly affecting a selected number,” said Mike Tate, associate dean and associate director of Cooperative Extension.Tate’s office is dealing with a fluid situation as it attempts to assess year 2000 budgets for county offices. According to WSU, the latest estimates indicate Grays Harbor County could be hardest hit with a nearly 53 percent cut in extension funding, from $192,000 to $90,954.Cooperative Extension has responded there by moving its office out of the courthouse into a portable building at the county fair grounds. The extension is analyzing other means to cope with reduced funding.In Lewis County, extension workers are readying themselves for a 50 percent cut in county funding. That’s a reduction of approximately $70,000. Many other county offices are expecting single digit cuts and others expect level funding, according to Tate.WSU Cooperative Extension provides non-formal educational programs to residents of every county on agriculture, youth development, water quality, gardening, nutrition education, natural resources, mediation and other subjects. Popular programs such as 4-H and Master Gardeners are included.In Pierce County, the extension provides programs from 4-H, to commercial horticulture, forest stewardship, the Tahoma Food System and others. WSU also runs the Salishan Learning Center in east Tacoma and the WSU Pierce County Community Resource Center. Salishan offers degree and non-degree programs, as well as adult basic education, English as a second language, GED and computer communication classes.Some county-funded support personnel have been notified that they will lose their jobs by the end of the year, Tate said. Affected county extension faculty will be transferred to vacant extension positions in other counties. This will reduce the number of extension programs provided in some counties, Tate said.Cooperative Extension receives about 21 percent of its funding through county governments. That money is used locally within the funding county. The rest of extension’s budget comes from state and federal appropriations and grants.The “Cooperative” in WSU’s program, refers to the cooperative funding arrangement at three levels of government. At the county level, staff are generally paid by the county. Extension faculty are paid by a mixture of state, county and federal sources.“For WSU Cooperative Extension, our partnership with counties is extremely important,” Tate said. “We’re very concerned about the challenges that all the counties face in terms of balancing their budgets.“What we’re trying to do is be as prudent and as fair as possible in any of the decisions that we have to make,” Tate said. “Where there are shortfalls, there has to be some sort of adjustment in programs and staffing because there’s going to be less money.”Tate said WSU is committed to quality programs and wants to serve the interests and needs of people throughout the state, but has to do that within the resources available.“Fortunately, we don’t have any county where we’re seeing closing of extension offices so we’re grateful for that,” Tate said.Tate said county councils and officials have been supportive of extension programs.”