State budget strains Moffat County Extension Office

In other action

At its Tuesday meeting, the Moffat County Commission heard from Dana Duran, Boys & Girls Club of Craig executive director, and Bryce Jacobson, Boys & Girls Club board vice president and Daily Press publisher, about a renovation project at the group's building on East Victory Way.

The plan - projected to cost $188,000 - is to build a new, secure entrance, front office and multi-purpose conference room onto the front of the building.

The Colorado Department of Local Affairs issued a $97,000 grant for the project, which the city matched with $20,000.

The Boys & Girls Club has another $21,000 from community members, including $6,000 contributed by board members, and officials expect at least $20,000 in other pending grants from nonprofits.

That potentially leaves $30,000 left for the Boys & Girls Club to make up.

Duran and Jacobson did not ask the commission for money, but said they would accept a county contribution if it were offered.

Commissioner Tom Gray, who said the Boys & Girls Club provides a worthy community service, asked the group to come back when club officials know exactly how much money it may need to go ahead with the project.

The Moffat County Extension Office for Colorado State University is short-staffed and under a hiring freeze, and more money may be taken away later this year.

If the Moffat County Commission wants to have a role in deciding the local office's fate, it should act quickly, said Alisa Comstock, Moffat County Extension 4-H/youth development agent and interim county director.

County officials will have a chance to get in on the ground floor next month, before the state makes any lasting decisions.

Nathan Moreng, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension regional director for the Western Slope, plans to appear June 30 in Craig to discuss the local office's future.

Comstock is the only agent currently working at the Craig office.

The office has been without an agricultural position for a few years after the county stopped its funding and also without a family consumer science agent since former director Elisa Shackelton resigned in June 2008.

Extension offices are subject to the state's hiring freeze instituted last year, and Moffat County never has been able to bring on a successor for Shackelton, who helped residents with issues such as nutrition, radon testing and pest management.

"I think you just need to be a voice that you care," Comstock told the commission during its meeting Tuesday. "If you don't speak up (and) come to the meeting, I think they'll take that position from us."

The commissioners agreed it seems extension offices will be one of the areas state legislators would look to cut if revenues don't increase by the fall session. Even if the state does not cut extension offices directly, CSU could make cuts if its overall budget is slashed.

"We can see the handwriting on the wall that less dollars are coming," Moffat County Commissioner Audrey Danner said.

The local office has been short-staffed for almost a year, but residents still call and come by in person for the kind of help they used to get, Comstock said.

"We've all just had to step it up and produce more with less," she said.

Depending on the wishes of county and state officials, extension offices may be bound together by region and asked to share resources.

For instance Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties all would staff one agent in their office who would travel around the region to share their specialty with other counties.

Other decisions that will affect Moffat County Extension and its customers already have been made, however. Starting in 2010, the office's fee it pays to the state for each 4-H participant will increase from $5 to $15.

To make up the cost, Moffat County Extension may pass that to its customers and raise its 4-H fee from $25 to $35 for each child.

Comstock said she doesn't want to do that but that it may be the only way for her office to keep from going into debt.

"4-H has always been an alternative program for the youth to keep them off the streets," she said. "I would hate to do something to that."

Commissioner Tom Gray said he doesn't want to make families stress about putting four or five children in 4-H but that it may be a sign of the times.

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