The Oregon State University Extension Service is wrestling with a budget cut that may reduce some local youth programs in Hood River County.
Billie Stevens, head of the local office, informed the Hood River County Commission on Monday that one full time staff position could be eliminated by next year. She said that move would take place if Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s proposed 10 percent reduction to the outreach arm of OSU was incorporated into the 2003-05 budget. There is also the possibility, said Stevens, that the Legislature may propose even deeper cuts before the budget is finalized. However, she said OSU officials are hopeful that will not happen since it already absorbed a 30 percent loss of funds in the current biennium.
“It’s never fun doing this but you just kind of have to work through it and, hopefully, it won’t come out any worse than this,” said Stevens, reiterating that the state budget would not be finalized until late June.
“We need to start getting things in place so this doesn’t have a major effect on the county,” she said.
Stevens said unless the financial situation changes, Hood River will lose between $35,000-$45,000 that paid for one staff position. As a result, she said some of the youth and family services will be jeopardized. Without that employee, Stevens said it will be difficult to provide training for the 90 volunteers necessary to run programs that serve at least 600 children, such as 4-H, summer soccer and leadership camps.
Although Stevens said it will be difficult to decide where the program cutbacks will take place, she believes it is essential that top priority be given to the horticulture assistance given to about 300 tree fruit growers. In addition, she said the popular nutrition and food preservation classes need to be retained because they helped many area families on limited incomes.
“Hopefully there may be some turnaround on the budget or they (elected officials) will look at other ways of taking reductions,” Stevens said.
She said OSU’s proposed staffing reduction may also change as more feedback is gathered from citizen advisors, faculty and staff. The final plan is expected to be decided by mid-May and Stevens said it will focus on retention of programs in each county that meet critical needs.