Extension service faces growing demand with declining funds
by Jessica Loeding
Jul 13, 2012 | 3001 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bartow County Extension Agent Paul Pugliese examines dogwood tree leaves for disease in his office Thursday. DAYTON P. STRICKLAND/The Daily Tribune News
Bartow County Extension Agent Paul Pugliese examines dogwood tree leaves for disease in his office Thursday. DAYTON P. STRICKLAND/The Daily Tribune News
* Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series that will look at Bartow County’s budget by department.

Providing instruction and information on a range of agricultural topics, the Bartow County Cooperative Extension continues to see an increase in demands for service but, like many other departments, has seen a decline in funding.

The agriculture extension service, which employs three full-time and one part-time person, receives $101,600 from Bartow County. A total of $65,000 is allotted for the full-time 4-H extension agent, a part-time 4-H program assistant, a full-time extension secretary, and a full-time agriculture extension agent with a split appointment as the county extension department head.

Paul Pugliese, Extension Coordinator and Agriculture & Natural Resources Agent for Bartow County Cooperative Extension, explained that the department also receives resources through other avenues.

“The county extension office is cooperatively funded by state and county dollars,” he said. “Approximately half our salary dollars come from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension and the other half is matched with county dollars. This funding model is used in almost every county in Georgia.

“The university provides the training for county extension agents as well as the expertise and support for basic programs [and] services that we provide to the public. Many of the diagnostic services that we provide, such as soil and water testing to homeowners and farmers, are provided at minimal cost since our laboratories at UGA are supported by state tax dollars.Through this cooperatively funded partnership, each county extension office provides residents with local access to the research, education and outreach services of the University of Georgia Colleges of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences and Family & Consumer Sciences, which is the mission mandate of state-funded, land-grant Universities in every state.”

Pugliese said educational programs also are responsible for bringing in funding.

“Many of our educational programs must also generate additional revenue beyond state and county funding. For example, our 4-H program generates funding from a variety of sources such as United Way, private donors and various fundraising activities to cover the costs of students that participate in out-of-county events such as District Project Achievement, which teaches students important life skills in public speaking and career exploration. The 4-H consumer judging team, livestock team and shooting sports teams rely heavily on donors to cover the costs for attending state and national competitions. Donors also provide money toward needs-based scholarships for students to attend summer 4-H camps.”

Next to employees’ salaries, travel is the single largest line item at $10,000. Education and training comes in at $1,000, with automotive costs in two separate line items totaling $1,000.

Travel for the department consists of a range of responsibilities, Pugliese said.

“County travel dollars support local programs and services that extension agents provide to the public,” he said. “For example, our 4-H staff travels to 22 elementary and middle schools in Bartow County during the school year to provide monthly 4-H club meetings. Over 1,000 fifth- through eighth-grade students participate in our monthly in-school club meetings with lessons centered on grade-level Georgia performance standards. These lessons reinforce what students learn in the classroom and strengthen their grasp on science, engineering and technology, healthy lifestyles, and citizenship through practical, hands-on application and experiential learning in the 4-H program.

“Travel dollars are also used to support in-county, onsite consultations with farmers and homeowners by the agriculture extension agent to troubleshoot row crops, pastures-forages, greenhouses-nurseries, turfgrass production, commercial landscapes and home gardens.”

“Bartow County currently has over 65,000 acres in farms with an estimated $85 million in agricultural production value. Most of our out-of-county travel expenses for trainings and professional development are reimbursed through state dollars from UGA Cooperative Extension,” Pugliese added.

The extension service, however, is not exempt from the budget crunch facing government services at every level.

“Both state and county funding sources have been declining in the last several years due to budget cuts. At the same time, demand for extension programs and services have been steadily growing,” Pugliese said. “Our office has lost funding for one full-time position after the retirement of our Family & Consumer Science Extension agent.

“Without an agent to support the Family & Consumer Science program in Bartow County, we’ve had to cut back many of the educational programs and services that we provided in this area. It’s also important to realize that there are many Extension positions that have been lost or left vacant for extended periods in surrounding counties, which directly impacts the number of calls and emails that are redirected to Bartow County. For example, during the past year, we have been getting a steady flow of phone calls and clients coming from Pickens and Cherokee counties seeking the assistance of an agriculture extension agent.”

Among other items budget for the extension office are $3,000 for office supplies, $2,500 for R&M office equipment, $1,000 for telephones, and $500 each for printing and binding and general supplies.

Despite the economic downturn and the sacrifices required, Pugliese said his department is faring better than many others.

“We’re going through tough times like all state, county agencies, but at the end of the day, I think we’re persevering a lot better than most,” he said. “Extension has a good history of working together and networking with other agencies and organizations to keep up with demands for programs and services. Agriculture extension agents in surrounding counties help each other out when they’re short-handed and work together to coordinate multi-county programs. We still offer a variety of educational programs to our clientele each year, but they might have to travel to the next county over to help overcome some of our funding and staffing limitations. We rotate these programs in our area so that each county has an opportunity to host them locally. ...

“Things will eventually get better, and I’m confident that Georgia Extension will be able to regain most, if not all of what we’ve lost in funding and staffing the last few years. We have excellent leadership in this organization that I trust will take us in the right direction. Some tough decisions have been made in the last few years. Like most agents, I worry that we will have to take on more work with less funding resources. However, at the end of the day, I can’t complain because I work in a great county, have extraordinary county staff, and have tremendous local support and collaboration from my peers and colleagues. Our extension family works together very well to overcome any hurdles and challenges that come our way.”