Budget cuts threaten Cooperative Extension

The county’s Virginia Cooperative Extension office and associated 4H programs may have to leave town — though they won’t if the county and Rappahannock’s state delegate have their way in the coming weeks of Richmond-based budget wrangling and the local wangling that follows.

The closure of eight county Extension offices and “restructuring” of another 13, including Rappahannock’s, is part of the House of Delegates’ 2011-2012 budget bill passed last week. The bill is currently in conference committee to be aligned with a somewhat less harsh Senate-passed version.

Rappahannock’s office and staff, under the proposal, would merge with Culpeper’s Extension office. No state-funded positions at the office would be eliminated.

The Senate bill makes no such changes.

County Administrator John W. McCarthy said: “It’s not clear what dollars they are looking to save” – since the county, not the state, pays rent and other office expenses for the Extension office in Washington.

The state and county split the salaries of Extension agent Kenner Love and assistant Jan Palmer — and if those positions move to another office, there would be no state savings. The county also pays the full salary of half-time 4H youth program coordinator Jenny Kapsa.

McCarthy said he believes that “4H would certainly not survive if there is not a local focus for it,” as parents would be reluctant to take kids to programs in another county.

The Rappahannock Non-Profit Center, which operates The Link community center in Sperryville, this week offered to provide free office space for the Extension office.

“That would certainly save the county money now spent on rent and office expenses,” McCarthy said, “and we could spend it to reduce other expenses — if we knew, again, what savings the state is hoping to gain.”

State Del. Todd Gilbert (D-15th) said Tuesday he’d heard over the past week from “enough voters who know the good work that Cooperative Extension does in the counties I represent” (Rappahannock, Page and Shenandoah), and that he and others in Richmond are “already working on fixing this.”

He and delegates representing similarly agricultural districts, Gilbert said, have been working on the premise that “it would be more ideal, if we’re going to tinker with consolidating Extension offices, that we probably ought to look in more urban areas. There are some Cooperative Extension offices in Northern Virginia where there’s not a farm in sight.”

The state’s budget crisis, which Gilbert quoted a long-serving colleague as saying was the “worst he’d seen in 49 years in Richmond,” is forcing many to make tough choices, he said. But Gilbert said he thinks something could be worked out to keep rural and agricultural extension offices going, including the office in Rappahannock.

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 544 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.