SE communities may have to help fund Extension Service position

Posted: Tuesday, May 04, 2004

On April 14 and 15, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service held a State Advisory Council meeting in Juneau. One of the reasons we selected Juneau as a meeting site was to give the council an opportunity to take public testimony about the soon-to-be vacant 4-H/land resources agent position in Southeast Alaska held by Jim Douglas. Approximately 40 individuals from the community attended the meeting and about 15 individuals gave public testimony. I want to thank everyone who took the time to attend the public meeting to share their concerns about the 4-H/land resources agent position.

Based upon the public testimony, Jim Douglas has made numerous positive contributions to the communities throughout Southeast Alaska and he will be missed after he retires at the end of June. Through his tireless efforts over 20 years, Jim has become a fixture in the community. Besides his work with youth development programs, Jim also worked with natural resources programs such as the Master Gardeners and responding to horticulture and pest management questions. We will also miss Jim at extension. He has been program chair for our 4-H program for six years, and he is a member of our executive leadership group. Jim is one of our most senior faculty members with extension and his knowledge and skills cannot be duplicated.

Ideally, when Jim retires in June, extension would like to fill his position with someone equally skilled. The state's budget situation, and in turn that of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, makes filling Jim's position problematic. In these difficult financial times, all departments at UAF, including extension, are faced with tough budget decisions. As we all have to do when balancing our personal finances, extension has had to make difficult choices about what it can afford on a limited budget. One of the difficult choices we have made is to not fill Jim Douglas' position when he retires, unless our budget outlook improves, which I sincerely hope it will.

The most significant challenge faced by extension is the cost of continuing to provide services for people throughout Alaska. To fund its operations, extension relies on state and federal funding. The organization's state funding has declined from $3,587,067 in 1993 to $2,991,607 in 2003, an almost 17 percent decline in 11 years. Inflation has further reduced the buying power of our state award. The organization's 2003 award would equal only $2,363,370 in 1993 dollars, a 34 percent decline in buying power. The federal award to extension has grown only slightly since 1993 and has not kept pace with inflation. This steady decline in our funding has forced extension to close offices and not fill many positions as they become vacant. The bottom line is extension does not have the money it needs to fulfill all the requests for services, and without more money, it cannot.

Traditionally, cooperative extension services throughout the U.S. are a partnership between federal, state and local governments. In other states, local communities make significant financial contributions to ensure that they receive services from their extension services. In Alaska, only a few local communities make any financial contributions to ensure they receive services from extension. The small community of Bethel is an example of one community that values the services of extension sufficiently to support it financially. The local government funds half of the cost of their local 4-H agent. During our recent public testimony, several community members suggested that we approach the communities of Southeast Alaska and ask for their financial support. We have begun speaking with one of the local governments and various communities throughout the Southeast to provide financial support to fund the region's 4-H/land resources extension agent position. Only with the help of people from Southeast Alaska will extension be able to get the funding it needs to help fund Jim's position.

• Dr. Anthony T. Nakazawa is director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.

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