Extension struggles with funding issues

JOHNSTOWN – Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery Counties is dealing with layoffs and the cancelation of its main 4-H spring fundraiser.

Extension Executive Director Brian Gilchrist – who divides his time between the local Canajoharie-based extension and the Washington County extension – said Thursday reduced funding from Fulton County and the state has hurt.

Gilchrist said in light of the reduced funding, he may approach lawmakers in both Fulton and Montgomery counties in coming months to see if any more can be done.

“We see the county as a valuable partner,” he said.

Fulton County taxpayers used to provide $129,000 in funding annually for the extension for many years. But in recent years, that allocation has been reduced. The county is providing $40,000 for this year as the first year of a three-year contract. But the Fulton County Board of Supervisors voted in December to set funding at $20,000 for 2015, with no funding planned for 2016.

“We made the commitment for three years and I think it kind of locks it in,” Fulton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Rick Argotsinger of Mayfield said today.

Montgomery County is providing the extension $72,000 this year – the same level of funding it did in 2013.

Gilchrist confirmed the extension recently dismissed two longtime, full-time 4-H employees, effective later this month. He said the extension is trying to create a new position that will concentrate on 4-H youth development, such as getting new members and new 4-H leaders. He said the agency also canceled its annual spring cheese, pie and candy fundraiser.

Gilchrist said his agency feels it doesn’t want to cut nutrition programs through the extension, so other cuts have had to be made.

Gilchrist said the extension – with educational and outreach programming encompassing agricultural and youth services – has several sources of funding. They include federal funding filtered down through the state, “discretionary” funding from the two counties and private funding. He said that federal sequestering has resulted in cuts to his agency.

“It’s been a struggle across the state,” Gilchrist said.

He said the agency could still exist as an organization solely on “private dollars,” but it would be hard.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.