UPDATE: Uof I College of Ag Listening Tour Public Meeting on Budget Cuts
University of Idaho Briefs Regents on Budget, Research and Extension Centers and Outreach Efforts
Written by Bill Loftus
LEWISTON, Idaho - The University of Idaho Thursday presented its Board of Regents with an update to the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences' budget review, including some signs of agricultural industry support for the research and extension centers.
John Hammel, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences dean, briefed the regents about industry, stakeholder and public meetings held in September across the state to seek comments and alternate solutions. The information was provided during the Idaho State Board of Education meeting Thursday in Lewiston at Lewis-Clark State College.
"We are grateful for the vocal support the centers have received," Hammel said. "We would much rather be investing in the future of Idaho agriculture than consolidating or eliminating operations that we know are important. We know the public feels the same."
He advised the regents that the college must ready its plan in early November to meet its fiscal responsibilities to balance its budget while providing agricultural research and extension activities statewide.
"Our challenge is that we must match the college's operations with the state's financial conditions and make sacrifices to balance our budget," he added.
Two successive state-mandated cuts have pared nearly 17 percent, or $4.7 million, from the Agricultural and Research Extension Service appropriation budget, which funds research and extension at the centers, in county offices and on the university's Moscow campus.
Without a breakthrough on other sustainable funding sources, university officials would be back at the regents' next meeting in early December to outline a budget plan that would continue the recommended research and extension center consolidation and restructuring, including closures, transfers and layoffs.
Since July, Hammel and college administrators met with college staff, industry, stakeholders and the public in a series of listening sessions in Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, Caldwell and Sandpoint to seek options for the research and extension centers.
As part of the review, college economists examined costs and benefits of the research and extension centers.
The listening sessions and public comments showed broad support for the research and extension centers. In addition, stakeholder meetings are generating ideas for other ways to sustainably fund or operate the centers with new partnership models that are being actively considered, Hammel said.
"We have had encouraging conversations with agricultural leaders and others who have expressed interest in helping financially and continuing operations at one or more centers," Hammel said.
However, he added that the talks are preliminary and the college must have commitments by Nov. 1 to provide enough time to implement the plan before Dec. 31.
As legislators prepared the current budget in January, Hammel warned that proposed cuts could lead to the closure of two or more research and extension centers. Declining state revenues led legislators to cut 11 percent or $3.2 million from the college's state appropriation for this fiscal year.
In April, Hammel consulted with a statewide 19-member task force and proposed a consolidation and restructuring plan that would cut funding for field operations at the Parma, Tetonia and Sandpoint research and extension centers.
Hammel noted that the research and extension center budget cuts, which would save about $900,000 a year, make up less than 20 percent of the total challenge now facing the college, which administers teaching, research and extension activities statewide.
Hammel said he hoped to find other ways and partnerships to continue research and extension center operations. Upon news that he planned to transfer faculty researchers to Caldwell from the Parma Research and Extension Center and cut back field operations, Parma city officials and supporters of the Parma center appealed for reconsideration.
In early July, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and University of Idaho President Duane Nellis agreed to revisit the plan to seek other options. Those included industry funding or partnerships that could allow the centers to operate until June 30, the fiscal year's end.
In September, weak tax revenues led the governor to order higher education officials to hold back 6 percent of their current budgets beginning this month. The toll on agricultural research and extension was $1.5 million.
The college administers research and extension centers statewide, cooperates with counties to base University of Idaho Extension faculty in county offices, and maintains education and research activities from its Moscow campus.
The University of Idaho is having several public meetings to receive input and comments relative to the budget cuts the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is facing this fiscal year (FY10).
One of the considerations the College is making to cope with the budget cuts is closing two or more Research and Extension Centers. This memo is an invitation for you to hear for yourself and to provide your input on what should be done. Additionally, Dean Hammel has talked about future funding of the R&E Centers and would appreciate any thoughts or comments you might have in this discussion.
These meetings will be held in Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, and Caldwell. The dates and location of the meetings at each site are listed below.
All of the meetings start at 6:00 pm. I hope that you will consider attending one of these meetings and providing your input to Dean Hammel.
September 8 (Tuesday)- Idaho Falls, ISU campus, 1770 Science Center Dr. CHE Bldg, Room 211
September 9 (Wednesday)- Twin Falls, College of Southern Idaho campus, 315 Falls Ave., Taylor Bldg., Room 277
September 10 (Thursday)- Caldwell, Caldwell Complex, 1094 E. Chicago St., Conference Center.
For those of you who plan to attend the meeting in Twin Falls and do not know where the Taylor Building is located, enter the CSI campus at the main entrance on Falls Avenue. As you turn into the campus, the Taylor Building will be directly in front of you. There is limited parking right in front of the building and ample parking to the left or right. The Fine Arts Auditorium is directly west of the Taylor Building. The meeting room is located on the second floor.
Don W. Morishita, Ph.D.
Professor of Weed Science and Extension Specialist
University of Idaho