Extension to start charging fees

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When Routt County Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow visits a small-acreage ranch to give advice next year, his help will come with a voluntary fee of $25 per hour.

In 2005, extension workshops could cost a little more than they previously have, and new items -- such as a book of gardening articles or an annual Ranch Tour -- will have a price tag.

Like all Colorado State University Cooperative Extension offices across the state, the Routt County Extension Office has to start charging for its goods and services.

Fees were the main topic at the Routt County Extension Advisory Board's annual meeting with Routt County commissioners Tuesday.

The agreement seemed to be that though some fees could be positive, the change would mark a new direction for the extension services.

"It's not the traditional extension anymore," board member Ron Normann said. "It's more like a business now, and everything is going to have to have a price tag on it."

Routt County Extension Office officials do not have a choice about the fees. When the CSU Extension administration decided it wanted to make up about $300,000 for the statewide extension service, it assigned each county an amount to earn through fees, depending on how many paid employees the county has. For Routt County, $2,500 must be paid into the service through fees this year.

The amount each county's extension office must collect through fees likely will increase each year, Mucklow said. State officials ultimately hope to collect $1 million a year through fees.

Of utmost importance to the Advisory Board is that the fees do not interfere with traditional programs or youth programs, board president Jim Stanko said.

County commissioners said the CSU Extension Administration seemed to be making some decisions, such as instituting fees or changing the extension structure, without input from an advisory board or individual counties.

In the worst-case scenario, extension offices would charge increasingly expensive fees, eventually becoming a commercial operation or drying up interest in its services, Normann said. Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said he hoped the situation would not get that far.

On a more positive note, the Advisory Board updated the county on some of the extension office's accomplishments in the past year.

One of the most important ones, Stanko said, was bridging the gap between more traditional extension roles and the needs of a more urbanized county.

"They haven't been caught in the old stereotype of what extension is supposed to be," he said.

A good example is the 4-H program, which saw more than 300 nonlivestock projects in 2004 compared with about 250 the year before, Stanko said. Those projects included Web page design and GPS work.

The extension office's work also is valuable as it leverages community volunteer participation. 4-H Youth Development Agent Jay Whaley said he did an e-mail poll of volunteers involved with 4-H and found that the hours donated to the community by leaders and members could add up to a $191,000 value.

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