COOPERSTOWN — After serving the farming community for nearly 100 years, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schoharie and Otsego Counties is relying more and more on reserve funds to cope with a funding cut from Otsego County, the program’s top official said Monday night.
“In recent years, we’ve seen a real seesaw of financial support, and it’s made it difficult to deliver quality programs,” said Don Smyers, the program’s executive director.
Smyers tried to convince the county Board of Representatives at a public hearing on the county’s proposed $125 million budget for 2014 to consider restoring some of the money cut from the $175,000 allocation it received in 2011 and 2012.
The board has tentatively agreed to send $125,000 to the local cooperative extension program in 2014, an amount that will prompt the agency to consider trimming some of the services it provides, Smyers said.
Myers said his agency is expected to spend nearly $40,000 from its reserves this year to keep programs operating. “I’m not sure how much longer we can do that,” he said.
As is customary at the county’s annual budget hearings, board members listened — only Smyers and one other person sounded off on the spending blueprint — but did not respond.
Rep.Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, a first-term legislator, said Smyers made a strong case for his agency and said he would consider his request, but refrained from raising expectations.
“It may not happen,” Koutnik said. “The budget is pretty set.”
Rep. Kathy Clark, R-Otego, the chairwoman of the board, said county committees have already agreed to the $125,000 grant to the extension service and doubted the issue will be revisited.
On another front, Clark acknowledged that she opposes the budgetary mechanism that would be used to come up with the money to boost the salaries of non-union county workers and certain elected officials, including County Clerk Kathy Sinnott Gardner and Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. Those employees have gone without raises since 2008, while union workers have received regular contractual pay hikes.
“I know we need to deal with that issue, but people are banking on things that haven’t happened,” said Clark, referring to the fact that the county still owns the debt-ridden Otsego Manor nursing home.
Among those who would not get raises under the plan are the 14 representatives, the county coroners, County Treasurer Dan Crowell and County Attorney Ellen Coccoma.
Advocates of the raises have suggested the county’s fortunes will improve greatly if the county sells the nursing home in the coming year.
The only other citizen to address the budget was former county Rep. Alex Shields of Richfield Springs.
“I see trouble ahead for next year,” said Shields, noting his forecast was based on his review of revenue estimates.
Shields also said he was disappointed that the board, in a vote last May, changed its own rules so it does not have to respond in writing to each question it gets from citizens.
He praised Rep. Katherine Stuligross, D-Oneonta, who voted against the rule change. “You’re a true patriot for what you’ve done,” Shields said.