The voters have spoken: there will be no OSU Extension Service District for taxpayers in Umatilla and Morrow counties.
As of 8 p.m., results showed that 53.5 percent of Morrow County voters had rejected the proposed district. About 1,700 votes had been counted, only 31 percent of eligible voters in the county.
About 64.7 percent of Umatilla County voters rejected the district, with a turnout of 10,749 voters, or about a quarter of those eligible to vote in the county.
The measures proposed a property tax increase of 33 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The tax would have raised about $1.7 million per year in Umatilla County, and $700,000 in Morrow County, and the money was slated toward operations for the Extension Service like staffing and equipment costs, as well as agricultural research and 4-H programs.
Mary Corp, director of the Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center and OSU crop and soil science professor, said she was surprised by the results, especially in Umatilla County.
“Of course I’m disappointed it didn’t pass,” she said. “We talked to a lot of people, and had a lot of positive responses from folks about how Extension has impacted their lives.”
She said she understood that it’s always challenging to pass a new tax, and that the sticking point here may have been convincing people about the importance of funding agricultural research.
As a public employee, Corp could not advocate for the measure. But she and other OSU employees spent several months speaking to city councils and service groups around the county, providing facts about the proposed district and the programs it would fund. It took a vote of each city council and county board of commissioners to put the measure on the ballot.
Corp said in the immediate future, research station directors will have to look at their budget and see how to handle the imminent shortfall.
She said that may include cutting positions.
“I don’t know of any other funding sources,” she said. “But we’ll continue to look at things to have strong research programs.”
Corp said in the coming weeks, she and other OSU employees will meet with their advisory committee and the county commissioners, and look more in depth at results.
She said it’s too soon to say whether they’ll go to voters again in the near future for an Extension Service District.