Group seeks fiscal court funding for 4-H agent

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By Jeff Moore

Carroll County’s Extension Council and its volunteers want the county to provide the funding to help get a full-time 4-H agent back on the job here.

At Tuesday morning’s Carroll County Fiscal Court meeting, council members, volunteers and the county’s Extension agents came seeking “stop-gap funding” of up to $46,350 for the 4-H position’s salary over the next two years.

But the group got no action as fiscal court delayed a vote until its next meeting after a lengthy discussion where there was disagreement on whether the county should take on the expense because it could turn into an on-going item they would have to fund beyond the two years.

Judge-Executive Harold “Shorty” Tomlinson explained that the county was poised to fill the 4-H agent job when agriculture agent Tim Hendrick decided to retire. At that point, the University of Kentucky moved to fill his job, meaning the 4-H position would drop back down to the bottom of the vacancy list that takes about two years to move to the top.

Tomlinson said, “they just left us hanging.”

Since that time, the county has moved from the bottom at 29th to 24th, Tomlinson said. Extension council president Mike Lewis said the county might be up to 22nd.

With the problems facing local youth, including crime and drugs, Tomlinson said, 4-H is a program worth investing in.

Under a UK program, local communities fill the job as the position moves up the vacancy list through “stop gap funding,” he said. Thirteen of the 29 counties with vacancies are now providing funding for the third agent.

Some fiscal court members wanted to know if they could be assured they wouldn’t have toprovide the salary again after the two years. Lewis said the state would not make that assurance because there is the possibility that someone could leave or retire from one of the other positions and the process would have to start over.

District 2 Magistrate Dean Miller said he “agrees 4-H is great.” However, he doesn’t see funding the position because it can turn into something the county will have to continue to pickup every time someone leaves one of the Extension jobs.

At one point, he said, the amount needed to fund the post is equivalent to a year of the real estate tax and that he would rather do away with that.

Miller said he has a problem with funding a position that gets paid more than fiscal court pays county employees. Plus, he said all hiring decisions on the Extension jobs are made by UK, not locally, meaning they are “not our employees.”

But one Extension volunteer pointed out that they are working for the people and children of the county.

Miller said he could support it “if there was a stopping point.” But he said there isn’t because of the way decisions are made at the state level. “They don’t have the guts to do their job,” he said.

The county is facing its own issues with expenses, he said, pointing to the earlier discussion on spending up to $300,000 to replace the heating and cooling system in the courthouse. He said the county also is going to face expenses with the jail because it is aging and not producing the revenue it used to.

Lewis picked up on that and said the investment in the 4-H position can save money in the long run if it can just help prevent two children from getting on the wrong path and ending up in the legal system.

District 3 Magistrate Mark Bates said the county’s 4-H post has been open since September 2009. He said he believes UK is not taking the need to fill it seriously. Plus, he said he doesn’t believe he gets a clear answer, other than budget, on why UK is handling the third Extension positions as it does.

Both Lewis and Tomlinson pointed out that Carroll County is one of only a few in the state that doesn’t have an Extension tax. Lewis noted that the local council must bring all of its requests to fiscal court because of this.

Because the position has been open since 2009, Bates said he believes the savings from the county’s portion of the 4-H post would pay a good portion of the $46,350.

Lewis said it would probably cover one year of the salary.

Lewis expressed concern that stop-gap funding could go away after UK determines its budget for next year. The state is expected to impose cuts of 8.4 percent that start in July.

These cuts, Lewis said, could bring an end to stop-gap funding because UK could decide to no longer carry the expense of the benefits for these positions.

Fiscal court voted 3-1, with Tomlinson opposed, to table the issue until the next meeting.

The court agreed to take it up at the March 27 meeting.