Budget cuts affect county OSU personnel
Recent budget cuts with more expected on the way have led to nearly non-existent representation for an OSU Extension Educator for Sequoyah County.
Jennifer Patterson who was hired in February of last year succeeded Tony Yates who retired in January 2018, to serve both Sequoyah and Adair Counties.
Patterson was to serve both Sequoyah and Adair Counties because funding for the service was reduced by the state. Patterson was notified last fall she will be taking care of Adair County three fourths of the time and one-fourth of her time to Sequoyah County.
Patterson did not respond to any phone calls to say what days she is in Sequoyah County.
“We are against it,” Steve Carter, chairman of the board of Sequoyah County Commissioners, said .
“We need a full-time agent here. We pay a percentage of the costs to keep one here by providing space and reimbursement for mileage costs. But what happens if we run into a situation where we need an agent right away.”
Carter said he believes with more agriculture in Sequoyah County, the need for a full time agent is more in need in Sequoyah than Adair County.
“When our farmers run into a problem, they call us first. We don’t have the answers and then we have to find the agent because she’s in another county and it’s really not our job to do that,” Carter said.
Currently, Sequoyah County has a full-time staff of two people, April Cole who serves as the Family Consumer Sciences coordinator which is similar to home economics and heads the 4-H Youth Development program and Rebecca Isham, secretary, who both run the office in Sallisaw.
Ray Watts, Sequoyah County Commissioner District 1 on the county’s eastern end, said some of the schools in Sequoyah County do not have a 4-H program and Cole takes care of the entire 4-H program in Sequoyah County and coordinates all activities including the county livestock show in Sequoyah County.
Randy Purdle, director of OSU Extension’s northeast district office in Muskogee, said “We are very much aware of the situation in Sequoyah County and it’s not ideal, but we are going to do what we can to staff the offices with the funds that are available.”
Purdle said OSU extension offices are downsizing statewide due to cuts which were approved four or five years ago.
“I don’t think they (legislators) knew this was going to happen. One of the legislators told me they were voting on cuts to education and OSU extension offices were affected. We were fortunate to have a director who saw this coming and was able to put some funds back to take care of a few years but now those funds have run out and we’re starting to feel its impact and Sequoyah County is not exempt from all of this,” he said.
Purdle said Patterson is currently paid 75 percent of her salary to take care of Adair County and 25 percent in Sequoyah County.
“But Sequoyah County also has April Cole who is taking care of 4-H and family community science and one full-time office help while Adair County does not have a representative for 4-H so Jennifer is taking care of about 1,200 kids in that county which is why we have her there 75 percent of the time,” Purdle said.
“In the future, we will be downsizing even more and there may be only one person to represent multiple counties,” Purdle said.
Purdle said the time will come when the counties including Sequoyah may have to fund the entire salary for an agent to serve them or a large percentage of their salary.
“We will only be able to pay for one full-time equivalent (FTE) which could be several people with just a small portion of their salary paid for by OSU,” he said.
Purdle said the actual director of the Northeast District Dr. Damona Doye is presently out of the country and could provide further (indepth) statements upon her return.
The OSU County Extension provides instruction and practical demonstrations in agriculture, marketing, family, Consumer Science, 4-H and Youth Development, and Community Resources Development to all persons in the counties represented.