Several Jackson County programs whose general fund support was headed toward the chopping block will instead receive funding for six months, following approval of the 2013-14 budget by the Board of Commissioners.
"That's good news, because we just found out about it (possible cuts) a few weeks ago," said Bonnie Martin, community outreach coordinator for the Master Gardeners program, which utilizes the Extension.
The OSU Extension and Experiment Station, public health, veterans services and other programs will receive county funds for six months. If additional revenue sources have not been found to fund them for the full fiscal year and beyond, the final six months of funding will be cut.
"We'll fund these folks for half the number," Commission Chairman Don Skundrick said.
Planned general-fund cuts to the county's libraries, development services, human services agencies and Sheriff's Department will still go into effect. That likely means cuts to library hours, fewer deputies on the road and reduced funding for social service partners such as Court Appointed Special Advocates and Senior and Disability Services.
But if new dollars are found, those programs also would get their funding restored.
The cuts were part of an effort to close a $6.7 million budget gap. Of that, about $5.3 million will be filled with county rainy-day funds. The county's budget committee convened in April to figure out how to pare the remaining $1.4 million. The additional cuts to programs were proposed by budget committee members.
The cuts approved Wednesday were in addition to cuts already in the budget, which eliminated positions from the Sheriff's Department, District Attorney's Office and Community Corrections Department.
The potential for additional revenue could come from a jail surcharge proposed by Skundrick. Under the surcharge, each apartment, home and business would be charged up to $7 per month — plus Consumer Price Index adjustments — for the first five years, followed by a monthly charge of no more than $10 plus CPI increases in the years after that. That money would go to fund the jail, freeing up additional general fund dollars that could be used on other programs.
The county hopes to survey voters on the idea's popularity before progressing any further.
"I just see a crisis, and this is what I think we need to do to fix this," Skundrick said.
Numerous supporters of the Extension Service program spoke out against the proposed cuts during a public hearing Wednesday, including administrative staff, volunteers and program participants. They packed the Courthouse Auditorium to the point there was standing room only.
Of the 13 speakers to address the commissioners, only two were not there to advocate for the Extension Service. The library and social services each had a speaker address the board. No one spoke in support of the Sheriff's Department.
Some of the Extension Service defenders addressed the service's economic benefit to the county's wine and pear industries.
"We all want a strong economy in this county," said John Pratt of the Rogue Valley Winegrowers Association. "We need the kind of professional assistance we get from (the Extension Service)."
Others spoke of the benefit for youths of programs such as 4-H. Crater High School junior Logan Krische, who participates in the 4-H cooking, speech, goat, beef and swine programs, said the program encourages leadership among students.
"They have provided me with lifelong skills," Krische said. "So much of our community relies on the Extension Service."
Adults also said they are getting an education from Extension programs.
"It has allowed me to not only build up my self-confidence, it's given me the ability to build up my skills," said Betty Henagin, who has participated in the Extension Service's food preservation program for two years.
Representatives from the Extension Service's Master Gardener and Small Woodland Forestry programs also spoke.
Others spoke out in support of programs that ended up receiving the full amount of proposed cuts.
Maureen Swift, of Friends of the Medford Library, told the board that library officials are working on a campaign to show the benefits of the service.
"Frankly, we are very cognizant that's the only way the libraries are going to continue to survive," Swift said.
Dave Toler, director of Senior and Disability Services and a former Josephine County commissioner, said Jackson County's decisions about what to cut mirror the choices of Josephine County's board a few years ago, when essential services such as public safety were made a priority in lieu of cuts to social services.
"I think we all know what a worst-case scenario is today. It's the county next door," Toler told the board. "You are doing exactly the same things for exactly the same reasons. My hope is that your vision will be different."
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.