The Cottonwood Extension District office, housed in a Barton County-owned building at 12th and Kansas in Great Bend, is looking for a new home. The County Commission opted not to renew the agency’s occupancy agreement starting next January because the space is needed by 20th Judicial District offices which share the location and are experiencing a burgeoning need for their services.
“The occupancy agreement that we have with the Extension Office states that we must give them notice before July if we do not intend to renew the agreement for the following year,” County Administrator Phil Hathcock said. The building houses several entities: The 20th Judicial District’s Juvenile Justice Authority, Central Kansas Community Corrections, and Court Services; and the Extension Service.
The County Commission approves occupancy agreements with the council and the State of Kansas Parole Office annually, with the contracts lasting a calendar year. This was last done on Dec. 14, 2020.
Under the agreement, both entities pay their portions of the facility’s utility costs in lieu of rent. Extension also pays its phone expenses.
Hathcock said all of the Judicial District’s departments have grown over the past several years.
“In most cases, employees are sharing an office with at least one, and sometimes two other people. The additional space will benefit not only JJA but the other entities as well.”
After talking about this for a few weeks, the commission met with Donna Krug, Extension Council district director and family and consumer science agent, during its study session after this past Monday’s meeting. They discussed this issue and offered to help her find another location and move.
“It is unfortunate,” Hathcock said. “But the only other option would be for the county to go rent more space and split up our departments.”
And, playing into the decision was the fact the extension is a separate taxing entity. This hasn’t always been the case.
Prior to 2017, the Barton County Extension Council was a stand-alone agency that received tax support from the county of about $200,000 each year. However, in 2017, it merged with the Ellis County Extension District to form the Cottonwood District, a separate taxing body with a separate mill levy.
“You can imagine, there is just a little bit of stress right now,” Krug said. There are locations available and they will be talking with local realtors.
“It’s really our board’s decision,” she said. They discussed the matter at a meeting Tuesday and have a special meeting planned as well.
“It could affect our budget,” she said. They have until the end of the year to move, but arrangements, such as new signage, have to be made sooner.
“This is really kind of a transition time,” Krug said. They see it as chance to streamline their operation since they don’t utilize all the space they have now.
Technically, the Judicial District is a state agency. However, Barton County is the administrative county for the district and approves the budgets for the departments. The district encompasses Barton, Ellsworth, Rice, Russell and Stafford counties.
“We have additional programs and have added staff,” said JJA Director Marissa Woodmansee. There is also the possibility of other grants to fund more personnel.
“It’s not just us,” she said, noting the other Judicial District offices have the chance to secure grants as well. “It’s an opportunity for more funding for our county and communities.”