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Supervisors Assured Extension Service Will Continue To Serve County

By Staff | May 21, 2009

Despite the announcement that the Iowa State University Extension Service would be eliminating positions and drastically changing the way it operates, there will be little noticeable change in the Palo Alto County Extension Office. Palo Alto County Supervisors got a detailed briefing on the status of the Extension Service from the outgoing Extension Director during their weekly meeting May 19.

Bob Behnkendorf County Extension Education Director (CEED) for Palo Alto and Kossuth Counties, along with Palo Alto County Extension Board Chair George Zech, met with the supervisors to allay any fears that the local office would be lost in the restructuring by Iowa State University.

“We are here to assure you that the Palo Alto County Extension Office, as we all know it, will remain open,” Behnkendorf stated. “The staff will remain the same with Julie Naig and Denise Flaherty, and the county Extension Council will become more involved with the programming and services of the office.”

Behnkendorf explained that because the cuts in funding weren’t finalized until the final hours of the Legislative session, ISU Extension took its course of action in a short period of time. However, planning had been going for quite some time. “Extension had several ‘listening post’ meetings starting back in March, where people were invited to offer their input on ways to trim Extension’s budgets. At that time, the talk was about cutting area offices and doing more sharing of CEEDs, like we’ve done in Palo Alto and Kossuth. In fact, we were complimented in those meetings on the strong relationships that our offices had with our local boards of supervisors. But here in the last three weeks when Extension came out with this final plan, I was quite shocked.”

Under the plan, all 95 CEED positions in the state will be eliminated, and all five area directors and area offices are being closed. Instead, Extension will operate out of 21 regional offices, with several counties operating in a region.

“Palo Alto County will be in a region with Emmet, Kossuth, Winnebago and Hancock Counties,” Behnkendorf noted. “Because of my years of service, I have been offered the opportunity for early retirement, and I have applied to retire on June 30.”

According to Behnkendorf, by retiring, Palo Alto County will be saving $9,000 a year that was being paid to ISU Extension for a share of his salary. Instead, those dollars will now be available back to the county Extension Council to use for programming and services at the county level.

“Palo Alto and Kossuth Counties have been ahead of the game in this process,” Behnkendorf explained. “It all started with the sharing of my position four years ago. Denise and Julie have carried the torch locally for several years and they’ve done very, very well in the county. I feel that’s a sign of how well the Extension Office will continue to function in the future.”

Behnkendorf continued, “The youth programs in Palo Alto County are second to none in the state. You can be assured that Extension in this county will continue for the youth and for all the residents.”

“Please remember that the Extension Council will still need the support of the supervisors in the future,” Zech pointed out.

“That’s true,” Behnkendorf added. “You gentlemen have recognized the importance of keeping our youth challenged through programming, and it will be the Extension Council’s responsibility in the future to make those decisions. You and the council will need to have the input of citizens on what they want for services through Extension.”

Iowa State’s current network of Field Specialists will remain intact, and will be available to counties for programming on an as-needed basis.

“Basically, Palo Alto County Extension is going to have to work more efficiently and use the technology that exists to continue to serve the people of Palo Alto County,” Behnkendorf concluded.

“I’d like to thank you for the work you’ve done for us in the county,” Board Chair Ed Noonan told Behnkendorf, as the other supervisors voiced their agreement.

“Yes, there’s obviously a reason why Palo Alto County’s Extension is in such good shape,” Supervisor Keith Wirtz said to conclude the discussion.