Ag Leaders Seek Service District to Secure Additional Funding

Ag Service District Meeting
Bryan Wolfe, center, explains the idea behind a proposed OSU Extension Service district to secure more funding during Monday's Hermiston City Council meeting. At left is Mary Corp and Greg Harris is seated on the right. (Photo: Northeast Oregon Now)

The Oregon State University Extension Service will ask local taxpayers to become part of its ongoing funding source by creating a service district in both Umatilla and Morrow counties.

Mary Corp, regional administrator for the OSU Extension Service, along with Bryan Wolfe and Greg Harris – members of the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center (HAREC) Advisory Board – outlined the proposal during Monday’s Hermiston City Council meeting.

Wolfe said taxpayer money – proposed at 33 cents per $1,000 of assessed value – would support additional staff, utilities and maintenance among other things. Wolfe said state and federal budget cuts have had a negative impact on the extension service. Adding to the challenge was an edict issued about 10 years ago from Oregon State University that extension services would need to find as much as 25 percent of their funding from local sources.

“It is an unsustainable budget we are now on,” he said. “This (a service district) is one way we could guarantee funding for the future.”

If created, the district would bring in about $1.5 million in local tax dollars.

Wolfe said 25 of Oregon’s 36 counties already have service districts.

“We aren’t the first,” he told the council Monday night.

Corp and Wolfe told the council Monday that a number of stakeholders have been meeting for about 18 months to seek funding solutions and decided upon asking voters to form the taxing service districts to provide a more stable funding source.

Corp, who also serves as director of the Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center (CBARC) near Pendleton, said they are hoping to get the proposed district on the May 2018 ballot.

The Umatilla County extension district would include both the Hermiston extension center and the CBARC.

The OSU Extension currently receives more than $320,000 from Umatilla County’s general fund and about $167,000 from Morrow County.

According to the HAREC website, the center serves nearly 500,000 acres of irrigated agriculture in Oregon and Washington’s Columbia Basin. Research at HAREC emphasizes identification of new crops and production practices, plant breeding and varietal evaluation, integrated pest management of insects and insect transmitted diseases, plant disease control and riparian and stream ecology.

“The research center here is second to none,” said Harris.

Wolfe told the council that agriculture contributes roughly a half-billion dollars in farm gate value for both Umatilla and Morrow counties, and with an overall impact of about $1 billion to the local economy.

Mayor Dave Drotzmann offered his support for the service district.

“Eighty percent of all dollars that roll through here comes from the ag community,” he said. “We all benefit from agriculture. This impacts everybody.”

The council will consider its support for the center at a future meeting.