Dan Hust | Democrat
Cornell Cooperative Extension Executive Director Greg Sandor made a pitch Thursday to not cut his agency’s county funding, but legislators ultimately voted 7-2 to take out 20 percent due to deep fiscal difficulties.
Cornell receives 20 percent cut in aid
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO March 26, 2013 Though supporters made repeated pleas, the Legislature majority on Thursday voted to maintain a 20 percent funding cut in the county’s contract with Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE).
The cut is in line with what other contracted agencies received in the county’s 2013 budget, but CCE officials argued that Extension is different because county law mandates a relationship between the two.
“The partnership we have with the county is very unique,” new Executive Director Greg Sandor told legislators prior to the vote.
He championed the century-old service’s programs, offering to take legislators on a tour of Cornell University itself, if they wished.
“I think you underestimate the cut and the impacts it will have,” he warned. “... It’s not a ‘haircut.’ It’s really taking us out at the knees.”
Various programs now in development will have to be curtailed or completely halted, he indicated, adding that to avoid outright layoffs, staff may have to work four days a week instead of five.
Already the Extension is in a “minus cash flow situation,” explained CCE Board Vice President Earl Myers, a farmer who’s been an Extension member for the past half-century.
He noted all the surrounding counties kept their CCEs at the same funding levels as the prior year.
“It’s an investment into Sullivan County’s future,” he stated.
“The county needs Extension to be strong,” urged CCE Board President Joan Howard, who also brought with her a letter of support from the CCE Liberty building’s namesake, Gerry Skoda.
Board Secretary Glenn Pontier called CCE “the underpinning of economic development,” from its support of the burgeoning niche farm industry to its founding of farmers’ markets to its 4-H and Master Gardener initiatives which have encompassed the entire county.
“You need to reverse this,” he declared. “This is a mistake.… Carve out a special place.… You can do it, you really can.”
Legislator Jonathan Rouis attempted to do so, asking his colleagues to support a restoration of the 20 percent cut, which amounts to $83,000.
“I think they need to be treated a little bit differently,” Rouis offered.
But save for Scott Samuelson and Ira Steingart, Rouis got no support.
“I’m not going to restore the whole thing,” affirmed Cindy Gieger.
Alan Sorensen asked Acting County Manager Josh Potosek if the county has the funds to cover such a restoration.
Only if legislators take from the contingency fund or find unanticipated revenue elsewhere, Potosek replied.
Cora Edwards recommended legislators enact the cut and then search for monies likely grants to restore funding, if possible.
“You can always allocate more money to a vendor later in the year,” confirmed Potosek.
By a 6-3 vote in the Executive Committee, the cut was sustained.
Legislators Gieger, Edwards, Sorensen, Gene Benson, Kitty Vetter and Kathy LaBuda were in favor, while Samuelson, Steingart and Rouis were opposed.
At the full Legislature meeting later in the day, Samuelson joined the majority, making the vote to cut 7-2.
“I find it hard to believe you guys would cut 20 percent out of anything to do with agriculture in Sullivan County,” chastised Jeffersonville farmer Dawn Erlwein during Thursday’s public comment session.
But legislators stood firm, with Vetter stating that it would be “totally inappropriate” to restore CCE’s funding yet maintain the just-as-difficult cuts on other contracted agencies.
“We were asked to keep the budget down, and that is our main directive,” Vetter explained, adding she’s worried about people losing their homes to foreclosure due to high local taxes.
She urged CCE to streamline and seek alternate funding.
“The budget challenges are very, very real,” added Gieger, who was a 4-H leader for 17 years. “... The county needs to tighten our belt.”
CCE will be doing the same, indicated Sandor, who said staff will be informed today of what impacts the cut will have, followed by a press release tomorrow.
“Definitely something serious is going to happen,” he affirmed.