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Pa. budget crisis could cause York County ag office to close

Greg Gross
505-5433/@ggrossyd
  • Penn State agriculture extensions are in 67 counties, including York
  • The Penn State Agriculture Research & Cooperative Extension receives about $50 million yearly from Pa.
  • And an additional $90 million in federal and county dolllars

The statewide Penn State Agriculture Research & Cooperative Extension, which has an office in York County, may be forced to close because of the protracted state budget crisis.

Penn State Cooperative Extension master gardener Christy Freytag of Springettsbury Township ducks inside a bird netting as she harvests blueberries at the Gardens at John Rudy County Park in this file photo Thursday, July 16, 2015.  Bill Kalina photo

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed in December a line item that included $270 million in funding to Penn State. About $50 million of that is allocated to the school's agriculture extensions in all 67 counties.

The lack of that money rolling in would mean death for extension offices and no work for the 1,100 extension employees in the state.

"If the funding isn't restored by May, we'd begin the process of closing and laying off workers," said Chuck Gill, a spokesman for Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences in State College.

Democrats urge Wolf to relent on veto threat

Locally: Fourteen people work at the York County extension, said Nina Redding, the district director who oversees operations in York, Adams and Franklin counties.

The local extension runs the master gardener program, West Nile virus spraying, water testing and other programs. In 2015, the master gardener program had 121 volunteers who put in nearly 10,000 hours helping 24,115 people with their gardening queries, Redding said.

"It's pretty significant when you just look at the volunteer efforts in the community," she said.

The extension also helps with the 30 4-H clubs that boast 500 members and 175 leaders scattered across the county. The 4-H clubs  reached 2,600 people last year, Redding said.

Penn State Cooperative Extension master gardener Frank Reed of Springettsbury Township picks green beans from uprooted plants at the Gardens at John Rudy County Park Thursday, July 16, 2015. Bill Kalina photo

Funding: Penn State had been able to keep the extension afloat during the budget impasse by freeing up some money and tapping into its reserves.

But that can't last much longer.

The state has traditionally kicked in about $50 million, and federal and county governments provide a combined $90 million match. To boot, paid workers at the local level secure grants and, last year, were able to generate $46 million in grant funding. Without the state funding, the rest of the funding would also disappear, Gill said.

"It's sort of a domino affect," he said.

But all hope isn't lost. The Legislature last week sent to Wolf a bill, part of the $6.6 billion spending package, to get the money to Penn State. Wolf, however, has vowed to veto it.

Democratic lawmakers said Monday that they are urging Wolf to approve enough aid to keep schools and extensions from closing and to back off his threat to veto Republican spending legislation he opposes. Democrats say they have urged Wolf to do a “blue line,” or partial, veto.

The Pennsylvania Farmers Bureau also has joined the cause for funding to be released to the extensions.

“With the planting season right around the corner and the possible risk of new pests, diseases, avian influenza or countless other issues, farmers and the public need to know that vital services designed to identify, contain or negate those problems are in place,” Rick Ebert, president of the bureau, said in a statement.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.