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4-H agent position may be cut

January 24, 2002

4-H agent position may be cut



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

West Virginia University will eliminate the Jefferson County (W.Va.) 4-H extension agent position that became vacant when Jim Staley retired on Dec. 31, 2001, unless the county can come up with 100 percent of the job's salary, WVU's 4-H director said Wednesday night.

West Virginia University representatives met with the Jefferson County Extension Service Committee at the county's extension office in Kearneysville, W.Va., to deliver the news. About 40 concerned residents showed up to express concern about the position's elimination.

Residents said they fear the program would suffer without a full-time director and that membership would decline. They said the program grew and became successful in the years since Staley became the 4-H agent in 1972.

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If the county were to fully fund a full-time 4-H agent, it would have to come up with $34,000 to $37,000 for the salary. The Jefferson County Commission and the Board of Education help fund the 4-H program.

WVU 4-H Director Larry LeFlore said a tight budget was the reason for the job's elimination. He said the university has left vacant similar positions across the state.

"We had zero funding for positions that became vacant," LeFlore said. "We were not able to fill any positions that became vacant throughout the state."

WVU funds much of the extension program, but the Jefferson County Commission, Jefferson County Board of Education and the federal government also contribute, officials said.

LeFlore said the WVU extension service is facing a 3 percent to 5 percent reduction in state funding.

"We are in a time of uncertain budgets," he said.

More than 500 children and young adults participate in Jefferson County's 4-H to learn leadership, citizenship, management and personal responsibility skills. They develop projects over a year-long period, which culminates in judging contests at the Jefferson County Fair in August.

In the summer, they attend a camp where they can participate in archery, craft-making, hiking, fishing and camping.

LeFlore said Jefferson County would qualify for a 4-H program assistant who would work in the county but be supervised by Morgan County, W.Va.'s extension office. The program assistant would help the 4-H club develop programs and activities, but final approval of any projects would be made by the Morgan County agent.

Some residents said they didn't like the idea of an agent in another county making decisions for Jefferson County.

"It's very hard to develop a program at a long distance," said Margaret Rose Smith of Shepherdstown, W.Va. "You have to know the people you're working with. Someone who is living in Morgan County will not have that personal connection. To me, that's the biggest thing this program will lose."

Other residents and committee members said they were worried that it would be hard to find a program assistant, since the position would pay only $21,000 a year. WVU would contribute 70 percent of that salary, and the county would have to fund the rest.

"The best we're going to get is a warm body, and it might not even be warm," Committee Chairman Pete Walker said.

LeFlore said the county may contribute more money to beef up the position's salary if it decides to accept the program assistant. The service committee voted to delay a decision on whether to accept the position and if so at what salary.

Resident Bob Tabb said he felt Jefferson County was being penalized by the position's elimination.

"We're being penalized because the people are educated, progressive and trying to better itself," Tabb said.

He said youth involvement keeps kids in school and out of trouble.

Toward the end of the meeting, resident Keith Berkley offered West Virginia University a little advice.

"I'd like you to go back home and tell them how important this is and get the money," he said.

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