The Barton County Commission met with members of the Barton County/Kansas State University Extension Council on Monday to learn more about a proposal to join with the Ellis County Extension Council, forming a new Barton-Ellis Extension district.
The meeting with Deanna Essmiller and Natalie Fullerton from the Barton County Extension Council Board took place take place during the study session that followed the agenda meeting, so no action was taken. But after receiving the information, the commissioners agreed that a resolution should be an action item on the agenda next Monday, Nov. 28.
Commissions from both counties have been asked to approve resolutions of support. That would be followed by the actual service agreement, once it is drafted by the two extension councils. The extension offices then cease to request funding from the counties, but the new district would become a taxing entity.
1.5 mill cap
Fullerton, president of the Barton County Extension Council Board, shared a draft as a sample of the agreement Barton and Ellis County councils might propose. “It’s what most other extension district agreements look like,” she said, noting one difference: the sample draft has a 2.5 mill levy for the new taxing entity. Ellis and Barton County board members thought that was “too high,” she said. “We all agreed on 1.5.”
That would be the maximum taxing authority, she said, adding the council could set a lower mill rate.
Commissioner Jennifer Schartz reminded Fullerton that the amount raised by mill levies goes up and down with the county’s valuation. “If you’re on a mill levy you’re not assured of having a set amount of money. I want you to know that’s a possibility,” Schartz said.
But, Essmiller noted, that is the same issue the county faces. When valuation drops, the county may cut allocations rather than increase the mill levy.
“That’s why we have the mill levy cap (on this proposal) that’s higher than what we need right now,” she said. “Maybe this will last us 50 years.”
Other extension districts have not raised their mill levies for 10 years, she said. “Extensions across the state have been very responsible.”
Commissioner Alicia Straub agreed, saying, “If any organization is frugal and makes good use of our tax dollars, extension does.”
Fullerton said merging with the Ellis County Extension is the best fit for Barton County, “Ellis County brings elements to the table that could keep the quality of our programming at the same level or better.”
Schartz repeated a concern raised last month; if the county doesn’t approve an extension district, the state may eventually create one.
“We’ve got to accept it or it will be forced on us,” she said.
Essmiller said a joint council would have an elected board, with four Barton County and four Ellis County representatives. The county commissioners would appoint the first board members to terms of two and four years. After that, board members would be elected during general elections every two years.
Commission Chairman Don Davis voiced an apparent change of heart about the proposed merger.
“I wasn’t on board with it from the get-go,” he said. “I had to learn more about it.”
Barton County Extension agents were also at the meeting and they said the consolidation won’t change the two county fairs and isn’t expected to reduce chances for youths in 4-H to compete in state events.
“Everybody’s going to be doing what’s best for the kids, hopefully,” 4-H and Youth Development Extension Agent Berny Unruh said.