By Greg Bird
Nearly 40 people spoke out Thursday night at a public hearing concerning the Fiscal Court’s plan to dissolve the Extension Board and take on responsibility for funding the Extension Service through the General Fund.
About two-thirds of the speakers were pro-extension, and spoke of the need to keep the service locally.
Those that opposed the Board and tax, were just as vocal, but were concerned with the amount of money the tax generates and the affect it has on low-income individuals.
Many of the supporters for the Extension spoke of the need of continuing the service in the county, and felt the Fiscal Court’s plan to operate the office threatened the future of extension in the County.
Cameron Lee, Agriculture Education instructor at the high school, stated the Extension Service works closely with students at the school, including the 4-H club and Forestry teams, which have won national competitions in the past. He said the extension service presents “opportunities that wouldn’t be afforded to these students if the extension was taken away from us. Losing these programs would impact the programs offered in schools.”
Brandon Gilreath, a cattle farmer, said: “I’m not an advocate of the tax, but if it will save the Extension Board, I’m all for it.”
Katie Wilson, a Junior Biology major at the University of the Cumberlands, said the movement to close the board had personally affected her, as she was scheduled to intern for the Extension Service over the summer and would have received $1,900 from the University of Kentucky for her work, but the program was withdrawn with the uncertainty of the future of the board. That money, she said, would have helped pay for her continuing education.
She also said her plans to become a veterinarian and eventually open a local practice was a direct result of the McCreary County Extension Service and the programs she had taken part in growing up. “I owe the Extension Office and Greg Whitis for the person I am today,” she said.
Shane Meadows, a student at McCreary Central, and member of the 4-H competition team said students coming through school behind him “need the same opportunities I had.”
Holly Daugherty spoke passionately of her children’s participation in 4-H camps and programs offered through a partnership with the extension and local library, and how the possibility of losing them would have a negative impact on the youth.
“The extension is good for the children of our county,” said Tammi Starrett. “They touch so many lives.”
Opponents to the tax were vocal in their beliefs that the move to eliminate the Board was not directed against the children of the community, or the Extension Service itself, but rather a protest against more taxes on an already poor county.
Some, like Ronnie Ross, said any new taxes would be costly to those who cannot afford it. “I’m on a fixed income, I can’t pay all these taxes,” he said.
Others, like Vicky King, were upset over how the tax was passed in the first place – without public comment, and the high rate. King said she was upset to learn the tax was actually passed by the Board last February, but didn’t become public knowledge until September.
“Taxpayers were not notified and able to voice our opinion,” she said. “They tried to shove it down our throats.”
Others, like Pernie West, said she is opposed to the high tax rate and is worried if people like her can afford to pay more taxes.
Essence Gibson closed out the meeting by stating she has used the extension service in the past, and enjoyed it, but doesn’t feel McCreary County’s taxpayers should be footing the bill for the University of Kentucky.
“There are a lot of people who are poor, on a fixed income, on disability – they can’t take one more thing,” she said. “I cannot justify someone to take their last money, or struggle, to pay for my hobbies.”
“We’ve had the extension for years, where’s our prosperity? Let’s not talk about what we are going to lose in our future when we’ve not had it in the past.”
No action by the Fiscal Court was taken during the meeting as it was only a public hearing.