CSU Extension Office makes plans for anticipated state budget cuts

The Colorado State Cooperative Extension already has trimmed about $800,000 from next year's budget and is looking to cut up to $1.2 million more.

Local agents in Craig want to be ready in case they are targeted as an area that needs trimming.

In a meeting this week, local CSU agents brought together its board of trustees and the Moffat County commissioners to discuss the potential impacts the cuts could have and to seek feedback on how the cuts might be absorbed locally.

The state CSU Extension director has asked that local agents gather feedback from their respective communities and report back, agent Nate Balstad told the group.

There are 120 state-funded agents scattered throughout Colorado. Two of them, Balstad and Elisa Shackelton, are in Moffat County. It has been estimated that 20 of those 120 positions might have to be eliminated.

Moffat County Commissioner Darryl Steele said county officials already have urged state Sen. Jack Taylor, R -- Steamboat Springs, and Rep. Al White, R -- Winter Park, to voice their support for the agents in Northwest Colorado.

Steele said because of the importance of 4-H and agriculture programs to a rural community such as Craig, the Extension Office has more of an importance than in some other areas.

"We feel because of that, Moffat County is not where those cuts should be made," he said. "Community wise, you're a bigger part of this community than many other places."

Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos agreed.

"We need more, not less," she said of the local office. "The Extension Office offers a uniqueness that is not available anywhere else and it needs to stay strong."

But even if the local office were to avoid staffing cuts, cuts to its operation are still likely to happen, some said.

"I would anticipate cuts because they're going to get you," said board of trustees member Dean Hollenbeck, who has been forced to drastically trim his budget this year as vice president of Colorado Northwestern Community College in Craig. "Prioritize what you have so when you get the call, you've already prioritized your list."

Balstad said projections show that the Extension statewide won't emerge from its budget shortfall soon.

The target it has to trim back to this year will likely remain for the next four years.

"You're looking at a potential of four to five years without pay raises to the staff," Balstad said.

One idea that might have to be pursued is providing more of a regional outreach by the local office, so it can offer services available here to other counties where those services are not available. But board member Sarah Hepworth said she did not like that idea. She said the personal contact agents have with Craig residents is a key in its effectiveness, and making it a regional outreach would take away from that.

Balstad said the CSU extension works on a July-to-June budget calendar.

The local office must report back to the state May 9 with the impact it has gathered locally.

The local office will know what impact cuts are going to have soon.

"If it seems like this came down on us late in the ballgame, it has," he said.


Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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