University of Idaho Briefs Regents on Budget, Research and Extension Centers and Outreach Efforts

Thursday, October 15 2009


Written by Bill Loftus

LEWISTON, Idaho – The University of Idaho Thursday presented its Board of Regents with an update to the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences' budget review, including some signs of agricultural industry support for the research and extension centers.

John Hammel, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences dean, briefed the regents about industry, stakeholder and public meetings held in September across the state to seek comments and alternate solutions. The information was provided during the Idaho State Board of Education meeting Thursday in Lewiston at Lewis-Clark State College.

"We are grateful for the vocal support the centers have received," Hammel said. "We would much rather be investing in the future of Idaho agriculture than consolidating or eliminating operations that we know are important. We know the public feels the same."

He advised the regents that the college must ready its plan in early November to meet its fiscal responsibilities to balance its budget while providing agricultural research and extension activities statewide.

"Our challenge is that we must match the college's operations with the state's financial conditions and make sacrifices to balance our budget," he added.

Two successive state-mandated cuts have pared nearly 17 percent, or $4.7 million, from the Agricultural and Research Extension Service appropriation budget, which funds research and extension at the centers, in county offices and on the university's Moscow campus.

Without a breakthrough on other sustainable funding sources, university officials would be back at the regents' next meeting in early December to outline a budget plan that would continue the recommended research and extension center consolidation and restructuring, including closures, transfers and layoffs.

Since July, Hammel and college administrators met with college staff, industry, stakeholders and the public in a series of listening sessions in Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, Caldwell and Sandpoint to seek options for the research and extension centers.

As part of the review, college economists examined costs and benefits of the research and extension centers.

The listening sessions and public comments showed broad support for the research and extension centers. In addition, stakeholder meetings are generating ideas for other ways to sustainably fund or operate the centers with new partnership models that are being actively considered, Hammel said.

"We have had encouraging conversations with agricultural leaders and others who have expressed interest in helping financially and continuing operations at one or more centers," Hammel said.

However, he added that the talks are preliminary and the college must have commitments by Nov. 1 to provide enough time to implement the plan before Dec. 31.

As legislators prepared the current budget in January, Hammel warned that proposed cuts could lead to the closure of two or more research and extension centers. Declining state revenues led legislators to cut 11 percent or $3.2 million from the college's state appropriation for this fiscal year.

In April, Hammel consulted with a statewide 19-member task force and proposed a consolidation and restructuring plan that would cut funding for field operations at the Parma, Tetonia and Sandpoint research and extension centers.

Hammel noted that the research and extension center budget cuts, which would save about $900,000 a year, make up less than 20 percent of the total challenge now facing the college, which administers teaching, research and extension activities statewide.

Hammel said he hoped to find other ways and partnerships to continue research and extension center operations. Upon news that he planned to transfer faculty researchers to Caldwell from the Parma Research and Extension Center and cut back field operations, Parma city officials and supporters of the Parma center appealed for reconsideration.

In early July, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and University of Idaho President Duane Nellis agreed to revisit the plan to seek other options. Those included industry funding or partnerships that could allow the centers to operate until June 30, the fiscal year's end.

In September, weak tax revenues led the governor to order higher education officials to hold back 6 percent of their current budgets beginning this month. The toll on agricultural research and extension was $1.5 million.

The college administers research and extension centers statewide, cooperates with counties to base University of Idaho Extension faculty in county offices, and maintains education and research activities from its Moscow campus.
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state's flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university's student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 130 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu.  






About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu.