Funding issues: Auglaize, Mercer could share extension position

The Auglaize County Commissioners are working with educators from the local Ohio State University Extension Office as they move forward with less funding and less staffing.
Beth Miller, who has served as the county’s 4-H youth development extension educator, said those duties are keeping her busy and are to be picking up as she’s learning the responsibilities of extension director, a job she took over in September after Lois Clark’s retirement.
Miller, who heads several regional committees in addition to her role overseeing the county’s 4-H program, said she is trying to learn more about the director’s position she took over this fall, with budgeting, staff evaluations and other duties as the head of the office taking up much of her time.
The local Extension Office has lost both Clark and an office associate during the past year. Those vacancies have helped with a tight budget but are requiring the four remaining employees to assume more responsibilities.
Across the state and region, changes have been taking hold as economic struggles have lead to reorganization with certain positions phased out and collaborations being used to fill others.
Agricultural agents, once present in every county, are now down to three and a half in the 10-county area.
“I don’t know what the plan is to replace them,” said John Smith, agricultural agent for Auglaize County. “Our numbers are declining pretty fast. It’s a changing world.”
Commissioner Doug Spencer addressed that issue by saying entities across the state and country were first asked to do more with less, then they were asked to do the same with less, and now they are being asked to do something different with even less.
“It seems to be where we’re heading,” Spencer said.
A partnership is being discussed to cover some of Auglaize County’s Family and Consumer Science educator duties with a position shared with Mercer County.
Declining to give a name until anything is official, Miller said the person they are talking to about filling the position would be willing to help with the 4-H program, too.
“We’ve sat down and discussed some preliminary things,” Miller said. “We’re talking about how she would fit into our program here.”
She said there are a lot of questions, but with other counties facing this same situation, Auglaize County officials are not the only ones asking, and she’s anticipating OSU will develop a general template for such an agreement.
Spencer said they are exploring the option of sharing an educator, which financially would cut educator costs budgeted for that position in half.
“The challenge then becomes choosing which programs are a priority,” Commissioner John Bergman said.
Miller said they are trying to look at it as one program and that is how OSU has encouraged them to approach the situation of dividing time.
Positions that are being advertised in house for job openings in other area counties, including Shelby, have had no applicants and have now been posted externally. Personnel are working with those from neighboring counties in other counties through the transition.
Miller said the goal has been to maintain 4-H and nutrition programs in every county. Years ago, agents served over multiple counties in the state, as is the set up in other states.
“We’re just trying to keep the programs going,” Miller said.