Officials with the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service confirm they have been notified that county offices will be affected by a system-wide funding cut. The cut comes as a direct result of the Legislature’s reduced appropriations to higher education for fiscal year 2018.
Pontotoc County Extension Service Director Janna Kelley said it’s too soon to know how the cuts will directly affect the county’s staffing levels or services. But the cuts are expected to impact area 4-H, Ag and Family and Consumer Science programs.
“Every county is going to be affected differently,” Kelley said. “We’re in a county where we have three full-time educators and a secretary here, but the county puts in extra for that.”
OSU Extension Service District Director Claude Bess said the county’s Extension office requires approximately $250,000 annually to operate at its current level.
Records from Pontotoc County Clerk Tammy Brown indicate the county has contributed $115,000 of that $250,000 for the current fiscal year, leaving OSU to cover the remaining $135,000.
The county provided $102,600 towards the cost of operating the Extension office for fiscal year 2015 and $112,600 for fiscal year 2016, according to data on file in the clerk’s office.
“What’s happening is the state’s under the crunch, so they’re lessening the amount … they’re going to provide and the county has to step up,” Kelley said. “But (we) can’t ask the county to take on any more because they’re struggling too.”
The reduction in funding comes at a time when Pontotoc County is struggling to alleviate nearly a $1 million deficit in jail and EMS operations and will likely ask voters to approve a new tax to cover those deficits next fiscal year.
With the budget process nearly complete for fiscal 2018, Kelley said it will likely be fiscal 2019, which begins July 1, 2018, before the impact of the cuts is felt locally. That impact is expected to be a reduction in staffing levels and the reduction or elimination of educational programs and services.
“Seminole, Hughes, Murray, Johnston and Atoka counties are already sharing educators,” Kelley said, adding that those counties had already been heavily impacted by last year’s revenue failures.
Kelley said Extension officials have been in talks with commissioners and the County Excise Board, but a solution has not been found.
“They’re all about trying to keep the services we have,” Kelley said. “But again, you can’t get blood out of a turnip. The money’s just not there.”