News

Master Gardeners funding may dry up

They did not have pitchforks or hoes, but the urgency was there for Master Gardeners.

Approximately 20 people from the WSU Extension Services Master Gardeners program voiced their concerns over a lack of funding at Monday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting.

“We know times are tight, but we squeeze the life out of every nickel we have and then figure out how to save that nickel in the future,” Master Gardener Anne Baum said.

The concern is that no new funding will be available to a program that has had to make cuts while expanding the services it offers, Master Gardener David Shoup said.

“Over the last few years, we’ve been cut back so much that ... we have not been able to do what we as volunteers do,” Shoup said. “We can’t operate exclusively on our own.”

The county does not provide funds that directly support the Master Gardeners program, said Judy Sexton, who provides support through the WSU Extension office.

She said she splits her time between the gardeners and other extension programs.

The extension services suffered a blow in 2002 when a full-time office staffer was cut from the budget.

This forced a consolidation of duties in the office, limiting the ability to provide a high level of services, WSU Extension Director Don Meehan said.

Funding levels currently are not adequate to maintain programs, and if needs are not met, Meehan said some programs could potentially be cut all together.

“Whatever flexibility we had is gone,” Meehan said. “I’m going to have to seriously look at cutting something of substance out. The Master Gardener program is an easy target these days.”

Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton said he is a supporter of the programs offered through the extension office and that he will do whatever is necessary to ensure they continue.

“These programs are certainly high on my priority list and are more than worthy of preservation,” Shelton said.

Island County Budget Director Elaine Marlow said the shortfall stems from a loss of revenue at the ropes challenge course the extension services operates. Marlow said she estimates that revenue will fall approximately $30,000 in 2005.

The Master Gardeners program generates approximately 5,000 volunteer hours annually and is mostly self sufficient.

This year alone, it has raised approximately $12,000 in grants and proceeds from plant sales, said Marcia Nelson, vice president of the Island County Master Gardener Association.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at eberto@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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