SALEM - Depending on how the state budget shakes out, the Oregon State University Extension Service will lose between 20 and 50 positions in the months ahead.

Either way, it is not a pretty picture.

Support services for Oregon's many agricultural commodities face dramatic reductions in the budgets lawmakers are considering in the protracted 2003 legislative session.

The reductions are being advanced in response to a $2 billion state revenue short

Under Gov. Ted Kulongoski's revised budget, the number of full-time equivalent positions at OSU Extension would drop from the 254 at the start of the 2001-03 biennium to 173. Under the co-chairs' budget, the number of extension service positions would drop to 203.

Currently, extension has the equivalent of about 225 full-time employees.

"It's been a tough year, and we're still not sure how everything will come together until the Legislature makes up their mind," said John Winder, assistant director of extension. "We're having to make assumptions that may or may not end up being correct."

OSU Extension's budget relies heavily on the state, which funds about 45 percent of it by contributing $35 million to $40 million every two years. Even slight reductions can have dramatic impacts on extension's ability to provide services, Winder said. For each 1 percent reduction in extension funding in the co-chair's budget, for instance, OSU Extension loses the equivalent of 2.25 full-time positions.

"We're trying very hard to keep positions that have the highest value, but people are losing jobs," Winder said."

Extension administration sought input of stakeholders in prioritizing the importance of positions. They found, however, that extension constituents are highly vocal and support their agents, and deciding which programs to cut was very difficult.

"There are a lot of different voices being heard," Winder said. "At the end of the day, you try to take them all into account and make the best decision you can."

Smaller commodity groups, particularly, were very supportive of their agents, he said.

"In many cases, some of these smaller groups may just have a single agent," he said. "People also really went to bat for youth programs."

Under the several contingency plans in place, extension expects to shift people around and fill vacant positions that were awarded high priorities with existing staff, he said.

"We are trying very hard to find homes for everybody," he said, "but there are some people who will lose their jobs."

Some positions will also be reduced from full-time to half-time, and some agents will have to cover more ground.

Extension managers are also considering charging farmers for on-farm visits and soliciting financial support from commodity groups.

They also hope to enhance revenues with grants and contracts, Winder said.

The state's portion of extension's budget probably won't be resolved soon, said Jock Mills, government affairs director for the university. The service's budget is tied to a bill idling in the education subcommittee of Ways and Means.

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