CORVALLIS, Ore. - In recent public dialogue regarding the Oregon State University Extension Service in Lane County, misinformation has been shared with media and further amplified in news reports, resulting in what OSU officials fear may be false impressions of the funding, educational programs and operations of the longstanding Eugene-based service.
The dialogue has centered on a Lane County ballot initiative, Measure 20-158, that would create a five-year local-option tax to provide funding for Extension education programs, operations and staffing. The measure is similar to those that several other counties around Oregon have adopted for funding local Extension programs.
The OSU Extension Service in Lane County, which has been in operation since 1914, serves more than 65,000 urban, suburban, and rural residents annually through programs such as 4-H Youth Development, Master Gardeners, Master Food Preservers, Compost Specialists, Climate Masters, Extension Study Groups, the Food Pantry Project and the Nutrition Education Program. The latter program partners with four school districts and more than 20 community agencies in service to Lane County families.
OSU, as a public agency, takes no position on ballot measures. But in the interest of providing accurate, factual information on matters that may be of interest to the public, the university shares the following:
- Neither OSU nor its Extension Service submitted Measure 20-158 to Lane County voters, and neither is involved in promoting the measure's approval. Rather, the ballot measure was crafted by Extension Service volunteers and supporters and submitted to Lane County commissioners in September 2009. Commissioners voted in December to refer the measure to voters.
- Facing significant budget challenges, Lane County government withdrew most of its financial support for the OSU Extension Service in Lane County in July 2008, but currently provides free rent for Extension in space on the Lane County Fairgrounds.
- Facing deep budget challenges of its own, the OSU Extension Service in Lane County has avoided closure by cutting faculty and staff, reducing educational programs by 25 percent, increasing participation fees, pursuing grants and contracts, and engaging in philanthropic fund raising. Efforts to establish a sustainable funding model based on grants and other fund raising have not proven successful. Current projections suggest that failure of the ballot measure would result in termination no later than June 30 of previously suspended educational programs relating to forestry, financial literacy, healthy aging, family self-sufficiency and emergency preparedness. Those projections also suggest that active programs lacking adequate local funding would be terminated as scheduled programming ends, or funding runs out.
- Laws that created the national Cooperative Extension Service require federal, state and local funding for county Extension offices to exist. Without local funding, Extension faculty paid by state and federal dollars will be reassigned to other locations, support staff formerly paid by local dollars will be released, and OSU Extension Service in Lane County's network of more than 600 trained volunteers will disband.
- OSU projects that Measure 20-158 revenue would be adequate to pay for salaries and benefits of staff members who develop, deliver, promote and evaluate Extension's educational programs. It would also make available revenue to pay for operational expenses, such as equipment and utilities, as well as instructional materials used to deliver educational services across Lane County. As the official ballot measure language says, "Tax revenue expenditures would be tied to measurable outcomes and subject to annual audits."
- Two OSU faculty currently assigned to Lane County have administrative and management responsibilities for the Extension Service. A news release distributed by a group opposing Measure 20-158 described them as "$100,000 per year OSU administrators." Salaries for those faculty members are actually $73,044 and $39,456.