YOUR MONEY AT WORK: Community agents

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If you have questions, the extension office has answers

By Stephen Lega

Editor’s note: This is the fourth story in a series about the seven special districts serving Marion County, as identified by the State Auditor’s Office as part of an effort to increase public awareness of how their money is spent. The Enterprise is taking a closer look at the special districts that serve Marion County, how they are funded, and what they do for the community.

Marion County extension agents are ready for your questions.
“That’s the best and hardest part of this job… it’s such a huge variety, but that’s what we’re here for, to find answers, whether it be about shooting sports or chicks or fishing or rocks or weeds,” said Rebecca Hill, the Marion County extension agent for 4-H.
Steve Downs, chairman of the Marion County Extension Service District Board, said the biggest misperception about the extension office is that it’s just for farmers. In reality, he said farmers make up less than half of the people you’re likely to see going in and out of the office on any given day.
The Marion County extension office, just like extension offices across Kentucky, strives to serve its community by addressing local needs. Local programming decisions are based on the recommendations from local citizens and in collaboration with community organizations.
And when the local office provides information, it’s relying on the resources of the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University.
“Our job is to provide research-based education to the citizens of the county,” Hill said.

The Marion County Cooperative Extension Service is projected to have $409,970 in available resources during the 2012-13 fiscal year.
The district is funded through local property taxes. The current tax rates are .029 cents per $100 valuation of real property, .0543 cents per $100 valuation of personal property, and .02 cents per $100 valuation on motor vehicles and watercraft.
The extension service is projected to receive $296,249 in local taxes during the current fiscal year.
Most of the remainder of the district’s resources is $113,471 in reserve funds. This is money that was carried over from the previous fiscal year.
Property taxes provide nearly all the revenue for the local extension office, but it also benefits from the many resources and experts available through UK and Kentucky State. That includes publications available at the extension office and access to experts at those universities.
“We are part of the University of Kentucky. That funding doesn’t come through this budget, but ... we have all these specialists at the university that are on-call,” Hill said.
The local office also benefits from a federal grant that pays the salary for Juanita Herron, who is an extended food nutrition education program assistant. While her position is not funded from the county extension office budget, she works closely with the extension agents on a variety of programs in the schools, day cares and the community.
Many of the services offered through the extension office are free, but there are some that require fees to participate. Those fees vary depending on the program or the class, according to Lizzie Spalding, the extension agent for family and consumer sciences.
None of those fees go to the office. Instead, they cover the cost of materials provided as part of a program. In the case of soil or feed tests, Kessler said the fees basically cover the cost of shipping the samples to the laboratory.
Even the fees for 4-H camp only cover a fraction of the cost to put on the camp.
“There is a cost to going to 4-H camp, but it covers only the cost of that child going,” Hill said. “It doesn’t even cover the staff that supervises [the camp].”
The biggest expenditure for the Marion County Extension Office is salaries.
In the 2012-13, $156,723 has been budgeted for salaries and benefits for the three extension agents, the two full-time administrative staff members and a part-time custodian.
Normally, the extension agents’ salaries are partially funded locally and partially funded through the UK Extension Service. Right now, however, Marion County is paying the full salary for Spalding, who is the newest extension agent.
In May of 2012, the county’s previous family and consumer science agent resigned to accept a position in Woodford County. Her departure came a few months after the previous agricultural agent resigned, and that meant Marion County was down to one agent, Hill.
In the eyes of UK Extension Service officials, who decide who will be hired to fill extension agent vacancies statewide, that made Marion County a priority hiring county. In June of 2012, David Kessler was hired to fill the ag agent position, which still left one vacancy.
That position was moved to the bottom of the priority list by the UK Extension Service. As UK officials hired agents for other offices, Marion County’s vacancy would have slowly moved up the list, a process that can sometimes take years.
But the Marion County Extension District Board didn’t want to wait that long.
“We saw a need in the community that needed filling,” said Steve Downs, the chairman of the extension district board.
Because of that need, the local office is fully funding Spalding’s position until it reaches the top of the UK Extension Service vacancy list. At that point, UK will begin providing its portion of the funding for Spalding’s salary.
The budget also includes $27,000 for travel and professional improvement so the agents can keep current on new information and so they can go where they are needed in the county.
The office operation expenses are projected to be $111,250 this fiscal year. That includes $48,000 toward the loan on the extension office building on Fairground Road.
The work of the extension office is more difficult to explain. During the previous fiscal year, the Marion County office presented 398 programs that had a combined participation of 29,373 people. The office staff made 257 client visits, conducted 6,230 telephone consultations and distributed more than 7,000 newsletters, during that same time.
Here’s just a sampling of what the extension agents do.
Hill, the 4-H agent, said 4-H clubs cover everything from fishing and shooting sports to sewing to livestock and dairy programs. Plus, she works to coordinate 4-H camp and helps with the 4-H Teen Council.
“Volunteers bring a lot of value to those programs and help lead those programs,” she said.
To prove her point, 246 volunteers gave 12,476 hours of service to extension programs during the previous fiscal year.
As the family and consumer science agent, Spalding said a lot of her work revolves around cooking and food. She and Herron often visit schools (including preschools and Headstart programs) to teach students where their food comes from.
“Another place we regularly go and do programs is the Lebanon Housing Authority,” Spalding said. “We do different things with them - nutrition, budgeting, finance, and health-related things, like portion sizes.”
She said they work with the 21st Century Learning Center. Twice a year they help those students prepare meals for their families.
The extension office also hosts an English as a Second Language program. Right now, they have a group of Japanese women who participate in the program, but Spalding said they are working to reach out to the Hispanic community as well.
As the ag agent, Kessler said he helps with a lot of educational classes.
“Right now, we have the master cattleman program, which is a series of 10 classes covering all the basics of the cattle industry. We’ll do individual sessions on nutrition, animal nutrition, pastures, forages, anything to do with agriculture,” he said.
As mentioned previously, he can also send feed and soil samples for testing. Based on those results, university experts will offer recommendations to the farmer to improve the quality of the feed or how to prepare the soil for whatever crop they are trying to grow.
Of course, the agents also work in collaboration with other organizations and with one another on a variety of projects.
Hill said they are working with the Heartland SAFE Coalition to host the Truth and Consequences event, which is designed to show students the results of drug and alcohol abuse. Spalding said she has been part of the group that worked to bring healthier options to the concession stands at the park.
And Kessler has joined Spalding in the schools for programs about agriculture, including an embryology project in which a class will watch an egg hatch into a chick.
They will also do their best to find answers to any questions anyone bring to them, whether its someone looking for information on starting a home-based business, gardening tips, or trying to eat better.
Kessler said he’s even taken photos of rocks and sent the pictures to experts at UK to identify what kind of rock it is.
“We get everything in here, snakes, bugs, wheat samples,” he said.
The extension building is itself a resource for the community. It’s available for use to non-profit organizations, Hill said.
The building has hosted a range of activities, whether it’s a meeting of the Marion County Homemakers, the Soil Conservation District’s annual awards banquet, or AARP tax services for senior citizens.
Downs said there is something going on at the extension building almost every evening.

Locally, the extension office is governed by the Marion County Cooperative Extension District Board.
Downs is the chairman of that board. The other members are Kim Jones, Connie Leachman (treasurer), Joe Bernard Luckett (vice chairman), Martha Potter (secretary) and Marie Wright.
Downs said these are strictly volunteer positions.
“There is no per diem or mileage,” he said. “The one benefit is a lot of times we’ll have a lunch meeting and have sandwiches while we meet.”
The extension district board meets as often as is needed. A few years ago, the extension office moved from its old office on ML King Avenue to its current location on Fairgrounds Road. While the building renovation was taking place, Downs said the board met almost every month. Today he said they meet every two or three months on average.
The extension board’s primary job is to make budgetary decisions for the local extension office, and Downs pointed out that they have kept the district’s property tax rates the same for the last few years.
Extension district board members are appointed by the Marion County judge/executive, but they are recommended the Marion County Extension Council.
The extension council includes people from various walks of life with representation from throughout the county. Council members meet a few times a year to help identify issues within the community and make recommendations for the local office.
“They help us decide what the county needs as far as programming. They identify drugs as a problem for youth or obesity as a problem in children or that we need more grain information for farmers, different things like that,” Hill said.
Those suggestions help the local agents plan for the upcoming year.
The district board and the extension council are only part of the oversight for the Marion County Extension Office, however. Extension agents are considered employees of the University of Kentucky, and UK Extension Services handles the hiring of new agents. The UK Extension Service is housed in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.
University and extension officials evaluate local agents and offices based on the programming they offer and how well they are responding to the needs identified in their communities.
Again, that comes back to the mission of the extension service.
“If you want to get into the extension philosophy, it’s the connection of the university as education and the local population that didn’t have the opportunity back in the day to go to college, but also to kind of extend that educational outreach to the entire state,” Kessler said. “That’s where it got its name 100 years ago.”

Marion County Extension Office
Office: 415 Fairgrounds Road, Lebanon, Ky. 40033
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (closed noon to 1 p.m.)
Phone: (270) 692-2421
Fax: (270) 692-1743
website: http://marion.ca.uky.edu/