Steamboat Springs Routt County residents soon may be sharing their Colorado State University cooperative extension agents with nearby counties while benefiting from other agents' expertise across county lines.
The CSU Cooperative Exten--sion is proposing extension agents throughout the state broaden their service area to help balance budget cuts that left some counties with fewer agents.
Extension offices provide residents information about agriculture, horticulture and consumer and family sciences. Routt County extension agents generally serve Routt County residents.
Starting in January, the extension service wants agents whose salaries are paid all or in part by CSU to spent 40 percent of their "effort" in other counties, said Nathan Moreng, extension office regional director.
Agents will travel to other counties but also may serve residents through other means, including phone calls, he said.
In Routt County, the change will apply to C.J. Mucklow, whose focus is agriculture. The consumer and family sciences position, which is open, also will be affected.
The change will not affect Jay Whaley, who is in charge of 4-H and youth development and whose position is funded solely by Routt County.
The changes stem from 2003 budget cuts to higher education that resulted in a $1.8 million cut to CSU extension programs, Moreng said.
"We have to make the best use of the resources we have," he said.
The cuts did not directly affect the Routt County office.
Whaley said the proposal likely will mean agents spend more time driving and less time helping the public, though local agents already provide services to other counties.
"We've already been doing this for years, it just hasn't been documented," he said.
The changes likely will be minimal compared to staffing cuts and other changes that might have occurred had Referendum C not passed Nov. 1.
The measure allows the state to keep -- for five years -- revenues it otherwise would have to return to taxpayers because of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
"What we have been told ... is it increases our opportunity for a flat budget," Moreng said about Referendum C. "We don't expect more money, but we also don't expect more cuts."
County commissioners statewide have approached with caution the idea of agents sharing their expertise across county lines because of funding individual counties provide to their local offices, Moreng said.
Routt County provides about 60 percent funding for the local extension office, and CSU makes up the remainder, Whaley said.
Because of budget cuts, individual offices in 2004 started contributing user fees back to the service and its programs. The Routt County extension office raised its fees last year from on-site visit donations and sales of a master gardener book.
"We try to raise it in ways that don't affect the public too much," Whaley said.
Routt County Commis--sioners, who met with extension agents about the change, understand extension office resource limitations and, to keep current staff, "are willing to do what we can to keep this kind of status quo," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.
Any additional time local agents spend helping residents of other counties should be reciprocated by agents outside Routt County, she said, noting that commissioners requested the office keep track of their time and efforts.
Sharing expertise across county lines was more desirable than another proposal, which was to replace county-based offices with regional offices, Stahoviak said.
"We didn't like that idea," she said.
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