Our opinion Extension needs local-tax option

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Posted: Saturday, March 16, 2013 11:45 pm | Updated: 10:17 am, Mon Mar 18, 2013.

The value of agriculture research was made clear by Dean Thomas Payne speaking Friday at the St. Joseph Metro Chamber's annual Farm City Breakfast.

Dr. Payne, vice chancellor and dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri, outlined how research not only is making farming more efficient — allowing fewer farmers to produce food for a growing world population — but also enabling medical researchers to pursue breakthroughs in health care.

As a land grant university, MU operates the University of Missouri Extension program that delivers the expertise and research at the university throughout the state. Extension has evolved through the years and its budget, originally at $10,000 Dr. Payne said, has grown into the millions.

That’s a positive. Unfortunately, funding from Extension’s federal and state partners has not kept pace with increasing costs, leading to less support for programs at the county level. Some counties struggle to fund Extension education, which includes 4-H, agriculture, nutrition, personal finance and business.

A bill that has passed the Missouri Senate and is awaiting action in the House would give local jurisdictions an option for new funding. The bill would allow county Extension councils to form districts of at least two counties to combine money for programming. Any tax increase would have to go to a vote of the people, and a county could withdraw from the district if voters did not approve the tax.

Combining resources is an effective way for rural counties to be more efficient and still have access to the services they need. Counties have shared agents for years. A provision for new taxing districts would allow for a more balanced distribution of costs, with the money to be used locally.

Extension programming serves many residents, yet the system can become bogged down in bureaucracy. In order to gain tax approval, Extension personnel will have to make a compelling argument that their services are vital for a community.

This might inspire more creative and interactive educational delivery, which in turn could expand the program’s reach into the community.

Twenty-six other states already have similar provisions allowing for the creation of taxing districts. Missouri voters deserve the opportunity to support their Extension programs if they choose.

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