K-State Extension says it will have to reduce staff if county cuts its funding

photo by: Joe Preiner

The Douglas County Courthouse.

Officials from an agriculture and community development agency had a show of support Wednesday from about 40 volunteers and 4-H members as they asked the Douglas County Commission not to cut the agency’s 2019 funding.

Douglas County K-State Extension was one of three partnering agencies discussed at Wednesday’s hearings on the county’s 2019 budget. When County Administrator Craig Weinaug recommended $3.12 million in cuts to various agencies’ funding in the 2019 budget he presented to commissioners last week, Extension was not one of them. However, a $55,000 cut to Extension is on a list of 21 optional cuts or fee increases totaling $1.2 million that commissioners could consider to help pay for solutions to overcrowding at the county jail.

Extension is a partnership of the county, K-State and the state in which county agents share research-based educational advice and programing in topics including agriculture, nutrition, community development, gardening and home economics. Extension also oversees the county 4-H program.

Extension agent Susan Johnson told commissioners that Extension would use $41,000 of its reserves to balance its 2018 budget, and that staff reductions would be necessary if the agency’s funding were cut.

“Eighty-seven percent of our budget is for salaries and benefits,” she said. “Any cut will require a reduction in personnel and corresponding reduction in services.”

The reduction of staff would have far-reaching consequences, said Extension board member Carolee Meseraull.

“Extension has hundreds of volunteers,” she said. “Without the oversight of staff, we’ll lose those volunteers.”

Between 2009 and 2014, Johnson said, Extension’s funding from the county was cut by $55,000 each year due to the recession. Those cuts were reversed in 2015 to add another full-time position, she said, and the organization’s funding from the county is now identical to what it was in 2008.

However, in addition to creating a new full-time position, Extension also converted one of its half-time positions into a full-time one in 2015 without asking the county for more money to cover that cost, Weinaug said. When members of the Extension board advised him of the change, he said, they told him the annual county allocation could handle the additional salary and benefits.

“That turned out not to be the case,” Weinaug said, noting that this was why the agency was tapping into its reserves.

Johnson conceded that the annual erosion of reserves also would require eventual staff reductions. To increase revenue, Extension was developing a plan to improve its finances through increases to its fee schedule and grants, she said.

At the request of Commissioner Michelle Derusseau, commissioners also discussed the proposed $169,000 allocation to the Lawrence Community Shelter. Unlike the other agencies discussed during this week’s public hearings, the Community Shelter wasn’t on the optional cut list.

The recommendation not to cut funding for the shelter puzzled Derusseau because the Community Shelter’s 2018 funding included $54,000 that was to be used to open a winter shelter to provide overnight lodging for 40 people during cold weather months, a project that had not yet gotten underway.

Sarah Jane Russell, the shelter’s executive director, said warehouse space at the shelter wasn’t converted into winter accommodations as planned because of permitting and cash-flow concerns. She said city zoning officials have since told her that a 40-person winter shelter would require renegotiating the Community Shelter’s special-use permit, which allows a maximum of 140 people at the shelter in cold weather months. The plan is now to provide a 25-person winter shelter in the converted warehouse space, which was in conformity with the Community Shelter’s special-use permit, she said.

The Community Shelter has a cash-flow problem because it has not received the latest $100,000 annual donation from its largest contributor, Weinaug said. With his authorization, the Community Shelter has been borrowing against the $54,000 allocated in 2018 for the winter shelter with the expectation that donation would eventually arrive. He didn’t disclose the donor’s identity.

Russell said the shelter has taken a number of steps to improve its financial situation, including reducing administrative staff and becoming much more aggressive in fundraising since she became executive director in January.

Commission Chair Nancy Thellman thanked Derusseau for bringing the Community Shelter to her attention. Commissioners now will include the shelter’s 2019 budget allocation with the other 21 options Weinaug presented before making a decision on the budget.

Commissioners also heard a request Wednesday from Project Bright Starts, which was formerly called the Douglas County Child Development Association. The agency is requesting $60,987 — its first-ever request for county funding.

Anna Jenny, executive director of Bright Starts, said the agency operated a day care and preschool for 22 children in two rental units that the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority provides. Bright Starts gets referrals from Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and the county’s school district to serve children who have a history of behavioral problems and can’t find placement at other day cares or preschools, she said.

Grants and Medicaid now provide for the salaries of Bright Starts’ three licensed clinical therapists, Jenny said. It is seeking county funding to hire a program coordinator.

Commissioners made no budget decisions Wednesday and will take a break from the budget hearings until 8 a.m. July 8. They will meet again on July 9 with a goal of making 2019 budget decisions on July 10.


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