Enrolled members of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Schoharie County voted Wednesday night in favor of merging with the Otsego County Extension Association.

Don Smyers, executive director of the Otsego association, said plans of a possible merger have been discussed for about a year. According to a media release, the extension offices in Schoharie and Otsego counties have been managed by a single executive director since Sept. 1, 2009.

Smyers said the two organizations have been carefully considering the benefits of the shared arrangement, and for it to move forward, both associations will have to vote in favor of the plan.

He said although the Otsego association will hold its annual business and board of directors meetings Dec. 2 at FoxCare Center, members will not be voting on the merger at that time. Instead, members will have the chance to vote through a ballot that will be sent by mail.

The goal is to have the ballots sent to members by the end of the month and have the return date set for sometime in December, Smyers said.

"I think people naturally always get nervous when you mention any type of change," Smyers said Thursday morning. "You never quite know what change is going to bring."

Smyers said he believes both boards want to see a strengthened organization, which can provide high-quality programming to both counties. The biggest benefits of a merger would be financial, he said.

"We all know these are tough economic times, and public moneys are diminishing, and it is becoming more competitive to get," Smyers said. "We've realized, in the last year or so, that we need to re-position ourselves. We need to redirect our money savings into programming and staff."

Besides financial benefits, Smyers said a merger would strengthen the organizations' core competencies by enabling them to keep high-quality professional staff and create opportunities that could create other benefits, such as providing greater access to individuals that can help with things like grant writing.

"We would be able to bring more resources to both counties," he said.

Cornell's Extension program is part of a nationwide system of partnerships between land-grant universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The system disseminates university research on subjects such as agriculture, nutrition and home economics through local offices throughout the state.

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