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WSU Extension braces for big budget cuts

Word is spreading quickly around Whidbey Island that drastic budget cuts loom in WSU Extension’s popular programs that attract hundreds of volunteers in Island County to protect the shoreline, promote gardening, encourage recycling and partake in other environmentally-friendly activities.

John Winder, associate dean and associate director of WSU Extension, and James Kropf, Northwest District director, confirmed the rumors during a conference call Tuesday with county directors that lasted over an hour.

Judy Feldman, interim Island County director, said the cuts to WSU Extension programs, estimated to be between 49 and 75 percent, will be felt statewide.

“We’ve been on the run ever since,” Feldman said, referring to efforts to increase community action to soften the blow of the anticipated cuts.

The possible cuts are WSU President Elson Floyd’s response to the state Legislature’s request that the university cuts between 12 and 18 percent of its budget.

This is not the first financial blow to the Island County WSU Extension programs this year.

“We’ve already been pared down to the bare bones,” Feldman said, quickly adding that all hires and searches are frozen.

The county cut about 26 percent of the program’s funding for 2009, which led to the loss of the Agriculture Sustainability & Land Stewardship program, a $10,000 reduction in support to the 4-H Youth Development Program, loss of a half-time Web designer and a collective reduction of $9,000 of the 4-H program coordinator and acting director’s salaries.

“These cuts changed our ability to provide support to our larger community, but did not change the community needs that exist,” Feldman said about the reduction in funding from Island County.

“We all know we are living in historic economic times. We know there will be some cuts, and we need to figure out how we’re going to move through those cuts to continue serving the community,” she said.

“This is not a time for a lot of conflict,” she said. “It’s a time to slow down and figure out what’s best.”

Nancy Nordhoff stepped forward to paint a silver lining on the cloud of cuts. The WSU Extension supporter pledged a $13,000 matching fund donation to revive a half-time position in support of the Agriculture Sustainability & Land Stewardship program that withered as a result of recent county budget cuts.

Cuts to the WSU Extension budget from the university’s budget would likely shake the program’s infrastructure, affecting extension research stations in Mount Vernon and Puyallup, 4-H, Waste Wise, Master Gardeners and Beach Watchers among other programs, Feldman said.

Feldman fears the WSU Extension program will be back on the Island County budget chopping block as the county commissioners work to slice another $1 million from the budget.

More than 400 volunteers actively participate in the Island County program, Feldman said. “The bottom line is that the support pieces people take for granted could go away.”

According to a press release, from Kristine Smith, vice president of the Coupeville Garden Club and a Master Gardener intern, the 400 active volunteers “provide services worth $16.5 million throughout the state.”

Island County WSU Extensions will hold a meeting Sunday, Feb. 22 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the M Bar C Ranch, 5264 Shore Meadow Rd., Freeland, to gather community feedback, discuss the possibility of additional cuts and generate ideas to continue serving the community within the Extension’s available resources.

“We’re all in this WSU family together,” Feldman said.

Sunday meeting explains cuts

Judy Feldman, interim director of WSU Extension in Island County, encourages volunteers to attend a meeting Sunday in Freeland to discuss pending cuts.

“The University is hearing the community feedback, and has at least allowed that what we are so concerned about is just one scenario that is possible — but they have not said that it’s off the table,” Feldman said.

The meeting takes place at M Bar C Ranch, 5264 Shore Meadow Rd., Freeland, on Sunday, Feb. 22 from 2 to 4 p.m. For more information, email judyf@wsu.edu.

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