The Barton County Commission Monday morning named the county’s first board members to the newly formed Cottonwood Extension District, the joint Kansas State University Extension venture with Ellis County.
According to the interlocal agreement for the district, Barton County is charged with appointing four qualified electors to the initial district governing body. Two members are to serve terms ending December, 2017, and two are to serve until December, 2019.
The Barton County Extension Council recommended Kathie Rondeau and Steve Tustin be appointed to the terms ending in 2017, and Deanna Essmiller and Natalie Fullerton to the terms ending 2019, Barton County Extension Agent Donna Krug said. The commission followed the recommendation.
“This is a dedication of your time and energy to this,” Commissioner Alicia Straub said to the new board members. “Thank you for your service.”
However, commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz said she remains uncertain about the move. “I’ve had a lot of concerns about forming a district.”
Schartz and the other commissioners attended the state Kansas County Commissioners Association meeting last week in Junction City. At that gathering, Schartz said she spoke with a commissioner from Norton County who wished they could get out of a joint extension district.
“It’s not working for them,” Schartz said. The mill levy was raised beyond what was originally stated and the new district offered larger staff raises than the county thought was prudent.
Commissioner Kenny Schremmer heard the same complaints. But, he said, “we’re in it and we need to make the best of it.”
Schremmer told the newly named board members they should stand up to pressures to go beyond the scope of the agreement. “We’re counting on you as local people not to let this get out of hand.”
Still, “this is a positive move for Barton County,” said Straub, who was a supporter of this project. “This is a local program that brings people back home.”
The new district will be in place starting July 1.
Under the agreement, operations will continue in each county with the extension district receiving funding from K-State Research and Extension and a dedicated mill levy limit of 1.5 mills at the county level.
With the change, existing staff will continue to maintain offices in their local counties, and will provide educational programming in both counties. Residents will also have access to additional agents and each county will continue to have its own county fair.
An extension district is a separate taxing entity that sets its own mill levy and is governed by a board elected by county residents. In this case, there will be four board members elected from each of the two counties which will set the budget and tax rate.
For this first year, the existing budget remains in effect. For Barton County, that was $215,000, or about 0.78 mills.
The district will have a maximum mill authority of 1.5 mills, but it will likely be lower.
Under the existing budgets, for every 75 cents Barton County spends on extension, Ellis County spends $1.12.
The state law allowing these districts was passed in 1991. Now, 45 of Kansas’ 105 counties fall under one of 16 districts.