A few months ago, Blaine County Commissioners announced they might have to cut one of their Montana State University Extension Agents. Now it is time for the ax to fall.
The county budget is drawn up and is set to face a vote Thursday.
According to Commissioner Frank DePriest, the extension office is one of many areas, like the library, that is having to absorb a loss of around $600,000 in revenue, from changes in mill amounts and utility assessments from the state, that the county currently faces.
The cut, which should save about $28,000, is merely the commissioners choosing not to replace former Extension Agent Mike Schuldt, who left to take a job in Miles City earlier this year.
The county will still have 4-H/Food and Consumer Service Extension Agent Teresa Terry.
The commissioners held a meeting in May to discuss how to handle the situation.
More than two dozen Blaine County residents came out to tell the commissioners how much they value the extension agents and how they’d be willing to pay higher taxes to pay to keep the post.
DePriest said the support was more equivocal in the days following the meeting.
“Everybody that was in favor of it was in the meeting,” DePriest said. “Everyone that was against it came in individually.”
The county has to pay 65 percent of the extension agents salary, according to DePriest, with MSU covering the rest, as well as the secretary’s wages.
At the May meeting, Blaine County Democratic Party Chair and state Senate candidate Greg Jergeson said this situation is the result of a shirking of responsibility by state and federal governments, who were supposed to support the program.
“The state Legislature has frequently reduced your tax base in the county when giving special interests tax breaks,” Jergeson said. “Someone has to expect that the representatives you send to state and federal governments represent your interests.”
DePriest doesn’t think the cut will hurt the county too much, pointing to the success of this summer’s Blaine County Fair under only one agent.
“I think we can function without it,” DePriest said. “I think the volunteers are going to have to step up and help.”
Aside from volunteers, DePriest said that Blaine County may also rely on help with specific programs from neighboring counties.