Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Effects of a tight state budget have rippled through to the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension's office in Routt County.
Debbie Alpe, Routt County extension agent in family consumer science and 4-H, has been asked by the Cooperative Extension's regional director to split her time between Routt and Jackson counties temporarily.
Although the arrangement helps Jackson County, where the only extension agent recently resigned, it means Routt County loses half of Alpe's time.
It's a loss that Routt County commissioners said they think not only could become permanent, but also could mark the start of fundamental changes in the extension service caused by state budget woes.
"The budget situation for the state is not going to get any better," Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. County commissioners discussed the change with extension agents Tuesday.
Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said the county needs to be ready for "the reality" that extension services could be cut. What worries him are potential long-term changes to extension services.
"I think we're facing a changing evolution in extension," he said.
For instance, a new user fee system may mean the county's office will have to charge for services such as educational materials or site visits.
Under current conditions, state laws such as the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights mean the CSU Extension could have no funding by 2010, said Routt County Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow.
Agreeing with this arrangement to split Alpe's times could mean the county is less likely to suffer from cuts, Mucklow said. Losing half of Alpe's time is better than losing all of it, he said.
Personnel cuts have been made across the state but not in Northwest Colorado, he said.
Alpe likely will begin splitting her time between the two counties in November and will do so until the end of June. At that point, the statewide service will decide whether to make the arrangement permanent, look for a new full-time agent for Jackson County, or come up with other plans.
Because of budget difficulties, the state has been reluctant to hire anyone and has a hiring freeze until the end of the year, Mucklow said.
Alpe, who has worked for the Extension Office in Routt County since 1996, said splitting her time between the counties should work well for her, as she and her husband live in Walden.
Also, her work can lend itself to a regional approach, she said.
Carl Herold, a member of the Routt County Extension Advisory Committee, said extension services are crucial for the county.
"In my opinion, it is the most valuable department the county has," Herold said. "There's no limit. Anybody for any problem can come to extension."