(Note: Dickinson County Commissioners heard a presentation Thursday, Feb. 13 about creating an Extension District with Marion County. This is the first of a two-part installment. The first is an overview of why a combined district should be created, the second deals with questions posed during the presentation)
Dickinson County Commissioners last week heard reasons why the county should consider creating an Extension district with Marion County.
The nearly 50-minute long discussion included a presentation from Dickinson County Extension and Council representatives, questions from commissioners and concerns expressed by a member of the public.
Through it all, the commission noted they wanted to learn more information and hear from the public before any decisions are made.
On Jan. 27, the Marion County Commission passed a resolution authorizing the exploration of districting with Dickinson County. Dickinson County’s Extension Council brought the resolution to the Feb. 13 meeting in Abilene.
“This is a proposal that has been talked back and forth for several years in general,” said Dickinson County Commission Chairman Lynn Peterson. “Some 50 counties have had a merge type situation.”
During a recent meeting Peterson said that K-State Research and Extension has indicated it would like counties to combine services and work together to create districts.
In 1991, the Kansas Legislature authorized county extension councils to form extension districts to better increase efficiency of resources and better utilize effectiveness of personnel by allowing them to specialize. That in turn, results in higher quality educational programming for citizens, according to information provided by Jill Martinson, Dickinson County 4-H youth development agent.
Martinson served as the spokesperson for the Dickinson County Extension Council.
Been here before
The idea for Dickinson County to become part of an extension district is not new. It’s been discussed at least twice in the fairly recent past. Initial talks began in the 1990s with the Central Kansas District that includes Saline and Ottawa counties along with more recent efforts involving Marion County, including a proposal in 2011 that was not acted on.
Currently, 53 of the 105 Kansas counties are in 18 extension districts across the state and that number will increase to 20 by July 1, Martinson said.
Speaking of the proposal, Martinson said the local extension board is asking the commission to consider the resolution.
“This is the very first step in a process — not a done deal step —allowing the exploration of the possibility of creating an extension district between Dickinson and Marion County,” she said.
Creating an extension district would have both short and long-term benefits, Martinson said, including:
• Extension Council executive board members would be required to file and run for office and would appear on the county election ballot while keeping the grassroots emphasis on programming by electing four residents of each county to the district executive board.
Districting maintains the system of resident-need identification through the continued process of residents engaged on program development committees in the areas of ag and natural resources, family and consumer science, 4-H youth development and community vitality.
• Allow sustainability for extension programming — research based, unbiased information from K-State Research and Extension, a land grant university.
• Allow extension agents to specialize to better meet the needs of district residents. When allowed to specialize, current ag and natural resources agents would be able to provide more in-depth programming in agronomy and livestock production across the district rather than trying to provide a little bit of everything in individual counties.
For example, Tony Whitehair in Dickinson County is an agronomist while Marion County’s Rickey Roberts is an animal science person, Martinson said, noting “Tony would be able to provide deeper information on agronomy across a bigger geographic area” and Rickey would be “able to do the same thing on the livestock production side.”
This is a practice the Dickinson County commissioners already have encouraged by “allowing agents to specialize in family and consumer science” by looking at “family resource management and also wellness and nutrition in separate positions,” Martinson said.
If a new extension district were formed, monies currently allocated toward extension in both counties would no longer be part of the counties’ budgets but would go toward the new combined district.
Based on appropriations for the budget year 2020, the Dickinson County mill levy equivalent is 1.556 mills or $322,450, while Marion County’s is a 1.277 mill levy equivalent or $164,048, according to information provided.
“When those are both considered together and you account for county population and assessed valuation, the mill levy equivalent for the combined district would be 1.449, which would be a lower mill levy for Dickinson County and does bump up the mill levy for Marion County residents,” Martinson said.
To equalize the two counties, the estimated 1.449 mill levy would amount to a $22,123 reduction for Dickinson County and a $22,123 increase for Marion County residents.
Despite the mill levy bump, Marion County Commissioners considered the advantages when unanimously approving the resolution to merge, she said.
“They looked at that a small investment in adding a lot of opportunity for specialization and education for their population,” Martinson said.
Timeline, protest petition
The process to create a combined extension district includes numerous steps, with the first being the resolution that was approved by Marion County and presented to Dickinson County.
If Dickinson County decides to proceed, the commission would approve an operational agreement to form a combined extension district with Marion County, signaling a series of events:
• Information will be published twice in the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle, the official county newspaper, seven days apart
• A 60-day protest period starts with the second publication. It also gives both counties’ extension councils time to work on operation agreements, educational plans and agent specialization and time to educate the public about extension districting and answer questions.
The 60 days is the time when a valid protest petition could be created and circulated which would bring the question to a public vote.
• After the 60 days, if no protest is filed, the operational agreement would need to be approved by both counties’ extension councils, an authorized representative of the director of extension and both county commissions.
• The approved operational agreement and supporting materials are provided to the state attorney general for approval. Ninety days are allowed for review.
• After approval by the attorney general, districts become operational on July 1.
Contact Kathy Hageman at email@example.com.