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LIBERTY, NY – The public is being asked to help keep the doors open full-time at Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Sullivan County following a 20% cut in funding by the Sullivan County Legislature, due to its financial challenges. This request for community support comes after a unanimous vote at the March 26 CCE board meeting to approve staff furloughs of one day per week beginning in mid-April.
“We need immediate help from families, farmers, homemakers, and everyone touched by Cooperative Extension if we want to keep providing services at the same level,” said CCE Board President Joan Howard. “We’re talking about our core, traditional areas of 4-H, agriculture, and family and consumer science. We know times are tough for everyone, but please consider making a special donation at this time.”
A weekly furlough of employees will begin mid-April 2013, announced CCE Executive Director Greg Sandor, as a result of the over $83,000 reduction to the county’s contract for programs approved last week.
“I am not prepared to cut any one program right now. Instead, I am planning on reducing staff hours across the board, including my position, and then we will spend the next month looking closely at each program and will begin cutting programs after this 30 day period,” said Sandor. “More importantly, by only cutting staff one day per week, they will be able to keep their current positions and retain the excellent benefit package that Cornell University provides to all our local county CCE employees.”
This furlough policy will require staff to take one day a week without pay, and affects all employees. All CCE programs and activities at the Gerald J. Skoda Extension Education Center in Liberty will be suspended one day each week beginning in mid-April, until further notice.
“If 1000 people donate $100 each, it will keep staff on full-time and our doors open five days a week for the rest of the year, giving us time to seek additional resources,” said Sandor.
The Cooperative Extension Board of Directors approved the new policy at a meeting on Tuesday evening, in lieu of layoffs. However, the board will review the decision in 30 days and make additional cuts to programs, if warranted.
CCE traditionally faces a difficult cash-flow situation since it is required to provide many of its services before it is reimbursed. Coupled with a federal cut of $33,000 due to Congress’s failure to reauthorize the Farm Bill, CCE is facing a total loss of over $116,000 for the year. With the first quarter already gone, the board felt it was necessary to take immediate fiscal action.
The cuts also put other funding at risk, including a $50,000 capital improvement grant secured by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther to make major improvements to the Education Center. That funding must be spent up front and then reimbursed. CCE was hoping to obtain additional matching grants as well, but now the entire plan is in doubt. Ironically, the $100,000 in building improvements would be made to a facility owned by Sullivan County and come at no cost to the county.
The board had planned to announce a 2014 Centennial Year Fund Drive this summer to celebrate the institution’s 100 anniversary in Sullivan County. Now the board is issuing an emergency appeal and will kick-off the fund drive in June. The money raised will be used first to reopen the office 5 days a week.
Additional funds will assist staff in carrying out the visionary plans in advancing CCE’s role in economic development, including: a business-incubating commercial kitchen, projects spotlighting maple syrup production, greenhouse demonstration, and woodlot management, as well as sustainable, energy efficient infrastructure for the CCE building. Donations received will continue to support the vital programs of agriculture, 4-H youth development, and family and consumer science that have established the foundation of CCE education in Sullivan County for the last century.
“We are committed to continuing to provide the great resources of Cornell University to Sullivan County. We will not waiver on this,” promised Sandor. The new director is enthusiastic that the public will respond with support.
Members of the board will be at CCE on Tuesday, April 2 from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. to answer questions about the furlough, budget, new projects, and the 2014 Centennial Year Fund Drive. Individuals with questions may also contact the board at firstname.lastname@example.org.