By Jesse Wood
Dec. 20, 2013. With the public hearing for the Beech Mountain water intake proposal still resonating, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution requesting the N.C. General Assembly support extension services at the county level on Tuesday. The decision was unanimous.
This resolution is among a similar draft that county governments across the state are passing and follows the N.C. Cooperative Extension Services listening sessions held across the state in November and December. A release announcing those sessions noted that the state extension has “seen recurring federal and state budget cuts of around $20 million since 2000, leaving roughly 90 positions unfilled – mostly at the county level – over the past four years.”
Now as the NCCES, which was established through the Smith-Lever Act in 1914, turns 100 years old next May, advocates of the extension are seeking the N.C. General Assembly to change how the extension’s budget is channeled; maintain a sustainable funding level; continue to base extension operations at the county level; and formally recognize the contributions of the extension to the state’s economy.
The extension budget travels through the UNC system and filters down to the local level after passing through the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C. State University. When education is on the budget chopping block, the funding for the N.C. Cooperative Extension is in turn squeezed.
One of the recommendations in the resolution that commissioners passed on Tuesday was to separate the state budget for county operations from the UNC system’s general budget. As Watauga County Extension Director Jim Hamilton said, “That would be ideal.”
“If the university gets cut, we get cut,” Hamilton said, adding that many people don’t understand that the state extension isn’t part of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Another recommendation that the commissioners made in its resolution is the continuation of the extension services and operations at the county level. While trying to serve more people with less resources, Hamilton said the idea of restructuring county offices into fewer regional offices has been thrown around.
But, Hamilton said, “The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service is really unique in that it has such strong county support.”
County Manager Deron Geouque said that the county pays about 47 percent of Watauga County Cooperative Extension’s administrative budget. Hamilton said the county provides about $250,000 for its share of the budget while grants and state funding provides the remaining funds. Hamilton added that every county in the state provides 30 to 50 percent of the extension’s overall budget. Throw in the building, infrastructure, power and electricity and the county funds more than 50 percent of the entire Watauga County Cooperative Extension budget, Hamilton said.
During the listening sessions, one of which took place in Boone, Hamilton recalled that “it was like preaching to the choir.”
Hamilton added that it would have been more productive to speak on the floor of the N.C. General Assembly before the elected officials.
See full resolution below: