The debate over the potential dissolvement of the McCreary County Extension Board continued Monday night as representatives from the University of Kentucky Extension Service met with members of the local Council and Board to discuss the latest developments in the threat of the Fiscal Court removing the Board and returning funding of the service to the General Fund.
The meetings, lasting more than three hours, outlined a course of action Extension supporters will take over the coming weeks as they fight to save the embattled local Extension Service.
In addition to encouraging everyone to write the Fiscal Court voicing their displeasure over the promised abolishment, the Extension Board also voted to retain the services of an attorney, McCreary County native Robert Waters, to oversee the process and determine what legal actions they could take to forestall the Fiscal Court.
The Extension Service hosted their Council and regular Board meeting Monday night to discuss the latest move by the Fiscal Court to dissolve the Board, and the possible course of actions that could be taken to fight the dissolution.
Attended by more than 50 concerned council members, the University of Kentucky was represented by Dr. Gary Palmer, Interim Associate Dean and Extension Director, Dr. Jeff Young, Director of County Operations, and District Director Anna Smith.
Many in attendance were concerned over the latest move by the Fiscal Court in their actions to disband the Extension Board, particularly the passage of a notice of dissolution at the last meeting. The notice of dissolution was the second of three steps the Fiscal Court must take if they wish to proceed with disbanding the Board, and by virtue removing a 3.95-cent per $100 of value tax on the citizens.
The notice of dissolution, passed by a 4-1 vote at the last Fiscal Court meeting, states the Fiscal Court’s plan for providing services offered by the Extension Service would be to return funding responsibility to the Fiscal Court, and provide those funds based on previous levels.
In the last budget where the Fiscal Court provided funding (2015-16), a total of $48,449 was allotted to the Extension Service for operations.
Some questioned the legality of the notice, asking if it had legal backing.
According to documents provided to the Voice by Magistrate Roger Phillips, who had received them from the Department of Local Government: the notice of dissolution was the proper next step and followed the Kentucky Revised Statues when a fiscal court attempts to dissolve a special purpose government entity.
The University of Kentucky representatives, who had also been in contact with the DLG, affirmed that the notice met the “bare minimum” requirements when following the law.
Beyond the legality of the process, members of the Extension Service, Board and University of Kentucky question if the Extension Service can maintain operations without additional revenue.
According to a budget breakdown presented by Extension Agent Greg Whitis, if funding levels were returned to $48,449 per year the Extension Service would only have $2,790 to operate for the entire year after meeting expenses such as salary, rent and fees.
District Director Smith, who oversees Extension Services in 18 counties, noted McCreary County was one of the lowest budgeted districts she has ever had to work with, and operating on less than $3,000 would be next to impossible.
Dr. Palmer noted with the state budget still being unresolved, many questions remain as to how many cuts the Extension Service will have to make in their own operating budget, and how those cuts will affect Extension Services across the state, including McCreary.
He noted expenses continue to rise, while the University of Kentucky is looking at a possibility of drastic budget reductions. Those reductions will result in Extensions across Kentucky being asked to pay an assessment to cover costs. Estimates for the assessments range from $20,000 to $50,000 in the next two years.
“We’re asking all counties to chip in more,” Dr. Palmer said. “Looking at the plan the Fiscal Court is proposing –there is no money left for materials and travel. It is hard to see how they could move forward.”
“We have been very happy to help McCreary County in the past, but we just don’t have those resources anymore.”
Dr. Young added that they have had no discussions with any magistrates, and do not know what types of services the Fiscal Court could offer at that funding level.
“We have had no contact with anyone from the Fiscal Court,” Dr. Palmer said. “No magistrate has contacted us, we are in the dark.”
The representatives spoke about the benefits the Extension Service provides the community, such as youth programs, 4-H, drug education, family support and several programs aimed at agricultural production.
But when asked what would happen if the Fiscal Court succeeded in their plans to shut down the Board, Dr. Young would not directly say the University would close the service locally.
“We don’t know what the future will bring when it comes to services in your county,” Young said.
Attorney Robert Waters provided his initial thoughts on the Fiscal Court’s plan to dissolve the Board and provide services. Waters admitted he had not had time to take an in-depth look at the situation.
“I don’t believe the action they have taken satisfies Kentucky law when it comes to dissolving this board,” Waters said.
He also noted the plan proposed by the Fiscal Court is lacking in detail, and could have unintended consequences for the Court if it stands, Waters said