Extension councils now have options
Governor Jay Nixon recently signed legislation that will offer University of Missouri (MU) Extension councils an option to form an extension district and better utilize their funding resources.
Tony DeLong, MU Extension county council coordinator, said the legislation will help county councils increase efficiency and reduce costs by working together but does not require councils to form a district should they choose not to do so.
"The key is the county council does not have to take any action," DeLong said. "This is an optional tool if they need it.
"The legislation was proposed and supported to give counties options when funding is low," DeLong said. "If three counties only receive $10,000 each, they can come together and have $30,000 to use to promote extension programs that best meet their needs while managing costs."
DeLong said the new legislation does not diminish the role of county councils, which would appoint members to an advisory board for the combined districts.
"Forming an extension district does not mean the county council will no longer be necessary," DeLong said. "They play a vital role in determining which extension programs are best for the needs of their county.
"A district would allow for a broader view," DeLong continued. "They would serve in an advisory capacity to county councils and serve as advocates for the district.
"We have several counties in the northern part of Missouri that have expressed an interest in forming a district," DeLong said. "There are three counties in southeast Missouri that are in preliminary discussions about forming a district."
Currently, Barry County is not in a position of having to consider forming a district.
"The Barry County Commission has always been very supportive of Extension," DeLong continued. "They have faced some challenges, including the economy and managing expenses. We are very happy that they have been so supportive."
The legislation also allows districts to ask voters to approve a property tax to fund local programs. A majority of the voters in each county of a district would have to approve the proposed tax for it to go into effect.
Similar legislation exists in 26 other states, including Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky and Tennessee. In these states, districting has allowed extension offices to remain open and continue to provide residents needed services.
The MU Extension serves every county in the state, drawing on the expertise of regional specialists and faculty members on the four MU campuses and Lincoln University Cooperative Extension. Specialists and faculty reach diverse audiences through educational programs, publications, websites, social media and one-on-one consultations.
MU Extension delivers programs throughout the state in the areas of community development, business, agriculture and natural resources, 4-H youth development and human environmental sciences. Extension continuing education programs include law enforcement, fire and rescue training, nursing and other professional fields across the United States.