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Extension facing cuts across the state
Robert Bell
Robert Bell - photo by File photo
The economic crisis has pinched many of Georgia’s government-funded agencies in the past few years, reducing some state entities’ budgets by more than 20 percent.  
The University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension Program had its funding trimmed by 23 percent in 2008, said Robert E. Bell, Liberty County Extension Service county coordinator.  The program never recouped the losses.
“I’m sure you’ve seen other state agencies and the cutbacks and budget reductions they’ve gone through and we have not been exempt from that,” Bell told Liberty County Commissioners during Thursday’s commission meeting.
UGA Extension, which serves 159 counties, is the public service and outreach branch of the UGA colleges of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Family and Consumer Sciences. It delivers research-based education from the university to agricultural producers, families and, through Georgia 4-H, children, according to the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Services’ website.
During the meeting, Bell warned attendees that services to Liberty County residents will be impacted under a UGA Extension plan that calls for assigning resources to counties based on a six-level tier system. Liberty would be designated a Tier 4 county.
Since 2008, the program has lost 114 positions to budget cuts, said Bell, which already has made it difficult to provide extension services. With additional cuts expected in the 2012 budget, the state can no longer support services such as water conservation and quality assessments, wildlife damage and control, and others for every county.
“This plan is just being worked, and we are doing our best to adjust to it,” Bell said.
Affected services in Liberty County include homeowner assistance, wildlife damage and control, homeowner vegetable gardening, local government assistance (tree surveys and recommendations, local agricultural grower’s certificates, etc.), master gardening training and certification, aquaculture assistance, agriculture including insect, disease and weed troubleshooting, water conservation and quality assessments and general entomology.
The routine agricultural and natural resources currently offered will be limited or non-existent under the tier system, Bell said.
County administrator Joey Brown said he is worried about the funding cuts and the possible loss of Bell’s position.
“We are concerned about the potential loss of the county agent position and will be trying to encourage the state to rethink the matter further,” Brown wrote in an e-mail.
The commission discussed several other matters during Thursday’s meeting:
• The Georgia Department of Transportation will work on supplemental environmental by the MidCoast Regional Airport to continue the runway expansion at the facility. The expansion will use $51,592 in federal funds, $1,358 in state funding and $ 1,358 in local funds, Brown said.
• Joe Cannon, a local resident, said roadways on Colonel’s Island need to be resurfaced.  When it rains, holes in road surfaces result in standing water. School buses also travel the thoroughfares, creating pot holes, Cannon said.  
“It’s in bad shape,” the resident said. The board made a motion to request Local Assistance Road Program funding through the Georgia Department of Transportation for resurfacing.
• Keep Liberty Beautiful Director Sara Swida is scheduled to come before the board during its Nov. 18 meeting to announce the acceptance of four awards for recycling and county beautifying efforts.
Next week, Swida will travel to Emory University in Atlanta to collect four first-place awards at the Keep Georgia Beautiful awards program, which, she said, is attended by representatives from various state agencies devoted to environmental awareness.
“I think the one thing that it really says is that this county really deserves this award,” Swida said Friday. “There are very few counties our size that have over 3,000 volunteers.”
The first-place honors include a state affiliate award for KLB’s “Don’t Blow It Away” litter-prevention campaign; an award for the Midway Middle School Builders Club’s participation in the Green Milk Campaign, which recycles plastic milk bottles; and Coastal Electric Cooperative’s award for its Cay Creek tree project. The company saved and moved 24 oak and magnolias from Islands Highway to Cay Creek Center.
Swida credits the awards — including two national awards that KLB will receive in December — to the efforts of the volunteers.
“We’re just really proud of what’s happening and what our volunteers are doing.”

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