EDITORIALS

Lobbying a needed effort for extrension

Staff Writer
Woodford Times

The Woodford County office of the University of Illinois Extension Service could be in peril.

A posting on the main extension service Web site sounds ominous. 

The extension service’s leadership says to address unprecedented cuts in state funding a restructuring plan, including a consolidated administrative structure, closing center offices, and staff reductions is necessary.

Robert Hoeft, interim director of the University of Illinois Extension said he has heard loud and clear from Illinois residents how important the services offered by the extension are.

“This new plan will maintain a local presence in every county,” Hoeft said.

Uh-huh.

It is not out of line to wonder if that is double-talk for “We’ll be around, but don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

If the Woodford County office were closed, it is reasonable to assume the services offered to Woodford County would come out of the Peoria office.

The Peoria office would be mandated to work to serve Woodford County residents.

But, a mandate does not create a bond.

Whatever office would serve Woodford County would not be familiar with this county’s unique wants and needs for some time.

And, even if Woodford County staff were working here, their hours and their ability to serve the county would almost certainly be curtailed. 

Hoeft said the restructuring’s goal is to administer local county programming from 30 units of at least three but not more than five counties.

This would reduce the number of county director positions by 46. The funding from those positions, he said, would support programs.

There are already plans to close several center offices on or about June 30. Other closures slated for later include East Peoria.

The extension has asked county directors to propose a unit configuration by Monday.

By May 19, the extension leadership will notify county directors of acceptance or changes in their proposals.

By June 10, educators will be notified of their new office location.

And by June 15, county directors will  be expected to submit their FY11 budgets.

The extension service leadership faces this situation because Gov. Pat Quinn proposes a state budget, cutting extension funding by $5.56 million. The extension service’s overall FY09 budget is about $65 million, supporting about 800 people.

The budget funding source breakdown is as follows: 18 percent federal, 21 percent local counties, 46 percent state, and 15 percent grants and revenue-generating activities.

This situation is hardly surprising given the state is billions in debt.

The ineptitude by the governor’s office and the leadership in the general assembly has brought this financial house of cards to the point of collapse.

Who suffers?

The taxpayers.

Consolidation of some offices is not necessarily a bad thing. Offices should be looked at and assessed for efficiency, sound fiscal management and outreach programs to the area served.

If an office does not stand up to that scrutiny, by all means shut it down.

But, why should Illinois residents trust that is the way the process will work.

This is Illinois — home of the back room deal. One need look no further than the situation our former Gov. “Lightning Rod” Blagojevich finds himself in to see that.

It is not preposterous to imagine Woodford County pitted against Peoria County for closure of an extension office.

If that is the case, will efficiency, sound fiscal management and outreach programs to the area served be the primary considerations?

Or, will the lobbying efforts of Peoria officials be the deciding factor?

That is a hard question to answer right now.

But, do not suppose for one moment that efforts to get concealed-carry and red-light cameras will distract Peoria officials from lobbying on this issue.

Be assured officials for the City of Peoria and Peoria County will be lobbying hard to keep their office open. Officials for both the city and county are quite efficient and experienced at lobbying. 

The time is short. But, there is still time for Woodford County to rally in support of this county’s extension office.

A good place to start is with your state legislators. Their contact information is on this page.  The time is now.

This is an effort with a rapidly approaching expiration date.