News

Extension office trims its staff

by AMANDA WINTERS
Sequim Gazette

Where there were four there only will be two next year.

 

The Washington State University Clallam County Extension lays off half its staff to meet budget cuts proposed by county leaders to close a $2.4 million shortfall.

 

For years, Clallam County residents have been able to drop by the WSU Extension with their bug-infested plants, water samples, dead rats and never-ending questions.

 

More than 1,500 children a year have participated in youth enrichment school activities, approximately 350 in 4-H, plus the 100 volunteers that keep the 4-H clubs going.

 

About 130 Master Gardeners have completed weeks of scientific training not only to grow plants, including thousands of pounds of produce they donate to the food bank, but also to educate the public on gardening.

 

Four employees, one part-time, manned the office and coordinated those programs over the past year. Next year, there will be two. But starting Dec. 1, for at least a couple months while a new Extension agent is hired, Gena Royal will be running the show solo.

 

“I completely understand where the county’s coming from with budget cuts,” Royal said. “As soon as we cut people, we cut services. It’s just a fact of life we have to do that.”

4-H to stay

Royal, 4-H program coordinator and acting Extension director, said she likely will spend most of her time outside the office handling 4-H business.

 

The 4-H youth enrichment activities reach every second-grade classroom in the county and she hopes through volunteers that can continue. Activities include projects such as incubating chicken eggs and planting seeds.

 

“The advantage of doing it in the classroom is we have volunteers doing it so it saves the school money,” she said. “We offer research-based activities that coincide with the schools’ EALRs (essential academic learning requirements).”

 

Every dollar spent on 4-H is $1,000 saved in law and justice, she said.

 

Additionally, because Royal’s salary is paid by WSU her position is not directly impacted by the county’s cuts.

 

However, she will have to absorb the most vital duties of Lori Kennedy, office administrator, at least temporarily.

Partnerships to cease

Kennedy, who spent nearly 15 years running the office side of the Extension, received her layoff notice and will leave her position effective Nov. 30.

 

“I always thought we did a lot with a little,” she said.

 

But the county requested a 64-percent budget cut, which was almost exactly the salary of Kennedy and part-time employee Muriel Nesbitt, Master Gardeners program coordinator.

 

Because the Extension office is not mandated, it was cut further than other areas of the county, no matter what their impact, Royal said.

 

“We aren’t going to be able to wiggle out of where we’re at unless the county commissioners decide to reach in the reserves.”

 

Partnerships with groups such as the Friends of the Field and the Clallam Conservation District are likely change or cease entirely, Kennedy said. That will impact the Clallam County farm tours, held every fall for 15 years, and the Farm and Garden Resource Directory, published annually since 1998.

 

How the Master Gardener program proceeds will depend largely on the ability of volunteers to manage it with very little help from the Extension office, Kennedy said.

 

“We get pretty committed people,” she said.

 

Starting Dec. 1 the office no longer will be open for walk-ins. Appointments must be made by calling 417-2279.

 


Reach Amanda Winters at awinters@sequimgazette.com.

 

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