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Josephine County 4H funding approved by Budget Committee but commissioners could defund it

Josephine County Commissioner Herman Baertschiger speaking at a wildfire townhall in Grants Pass in 2022.
Erik Neumann
Josephine County Commissioner Herman Baertschiger speaking at a wildfire townhall in Grants Pass in 2022.

On Tuesday night, the Josephine County Budget Committee voted 3-2 to approve funding for the 4H Extension Service District. This comes after the Board of Commissioners defunded it last year.

The 4H tax district was established by voters in 1996 to provide youth and agricultural programs, among others. The district's tax rate is $0.0459 per $1,000 of assessed property value. For a house valued at $500,000, that amounts to $22.95 in taxes per year.

Last year, the commissioners defunded the Extension after a controversy about religious symbols in 4H programs, which are managed by Oregon State University.

Now, the local Extension service wants its funding reinstated. They've been operating using reserves for the past year.

"The challenge this year is we're now under the clock and timeline for that money to run out, and so the reinstatement of the levy is critical for us to be able to provide the services that the citizens of this county have come to expect," said Interim Director of OSU Extension Kris Elliott.

On Tuesday, Commissioners John West and Herman Baertschiger voted against funding 4H.

They said voters meant for the money to be used for youth livestock education, arguing it shouldn't be used for other programs and administration.

"That was not their intention for the money to go to administration. It was to go to service the kids and the master gardener program. And it’s no longer servicing the kids. In my opinion, it's servicing OSU," West said.

Commissioner Dan DeYoung pushed back.

"The livestock program in its entirety is only a small portion of OSU and the Extension Service and other things they do," he said. "I don't think we throw out not [only] the baby with the bathwater, you're throwing out the whole damn family with the bathwater."

According to county code, "The purpose of the District is to provide and fund 4H youth, agriculture, home economics, forestry, community development and energy programs to the citizens of this County."

The budget still has to be approved by the county’s Board of Commissioners. Since two of the three commissioners opposed it on Tuesday, the 4H funding seems unlikely to pass.

DeYoung and Budget Committee members Dianne Hoover and Larry West voted in favor of the proposed budget.

Baertschiger also asked for a breakdown of how the Extension appropriates its money for each program, although Tiffany Gilles, OSU Extension's executive director of fiscal operations, said, "Extension is one program. We do not budget out by 4H, by master gardener or any of those things because all of those central services support the entire operation."

Elliott said the Extension has addressed the earlier controversy about religious symbols, but now it seems like the county is coming up with new objections.

"Now we’re hearing challenges about how our budget was presented yesterday, which was unfortunate because that’s the format of the budget we’ve presented over the last 10 years. So that was a new issue that we’ve not heard of before until last night," he said.

All of the over a dozen people who spoke during public comment at Tuesday's meeting were in favor of funding 4H.

Josephine County will hold a public hearing for its budget, including the 4H Extension Service District, on June 26 at 9 a.m. The final budget adoption will occur on June 28 at 9 a.m.

Jane Vaughan is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. Jane began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media.