Sedgwick County considers cutting center's funding nearly 15 percent

WICHITA — The director of the Sedgwick County Extension Center is bristling about a proposed 15 percent cut in county funding and says a study about what the center does is incomplete.

Wichita State University recently wrapped up a study for the county about services the center provides that other agencies also provide to the community. The study, by the Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs, was one of several WSU did as the county struggles with dwindling revenue.

Bev Dunning, director of the center, said she doesn't think it's fair the county is proposing to cut its funding to the center by nearly 15 percent, or $161,000.

"We're willing to be a team player and take our cut along with everyone else," Dunning said. "But our cut is deeper than the others."

County Manager William Buchanan has asked all county departments, except those involved in public safety, to cut spending next year by 6.6 percent.

The extension center is not a freestanding county department and its employees are not county employees. But the center, by law, gets most of its funding from the county, just as other extension centers across the state do from the counties they serve. The center falls under the county's division of community development.

As the county tries to keep spending in line with fallen revenues, "we're examining every service that the county provides, including those whom we contract with. We're taking a look whether there is a duplication of services," Buchanan said.

His recommended budget will not go to commissioners until July 13. The nearly 15 percent cut for the center is the community development division's recommendation, he said Tuesday.

Dunning said the list in the WSU study about what services the center provides and where else people can get those services does not paint a complete picture.

For example, the study says that Botanica, Johnston's Garden Centers and Tree Top Nursery provide horticulture services.

But Dunning said the mission of the center is unbiased education. She also said the center trains some of the alternative providers listed in WSU's study.

"It looks like a list that they googled, and that's just my opinion," Dunning said.

Misty Bruckner, the project coordinator for the study and associate director of the Center of Urban Studies, said "it's not our position that their services aren't important." She said that she understood Dunning's concerns but that "there are significant budget cuts going on in the county, and we looked at are these services being provided elsewhere by other non-profit organizations or within the county itself.

"This is an initial overview. We're just trying to highlight some things that stood out to us."

Dunning said the center's total budget this year is $1,253,333. Of that, the county contributed $1,098,348. Kansas State University kicked in $154,492. And there was carryover from last year of $493.

In a letter earlier this year to department heads, Buchanan said the county must reduce its budget by $9 million next year and by $8 million in 2013.

"They have to cut $9 million, and I understand that," Dunning said. "I think it's unfair we're being cut (nearly 15 percent). I'm not expecting miracles, but I do expect to be treated fairly."

An executive council determines how the center spends its money.

The center provides education on family and consumer sciences; horticulture and agriculture; 4-H youth development; and community development.

About 40 people, many of whom are part-time, work at the center, Dunning said.

Jodi Besthorn, a 4-H agent, sent out an e-mail to supporters asking them to contact commissioners.

She said the WSU study "includes information about only a tiny portion of the large number of educational resources provided by extension for little or no cost to the county population."

"I think our main concern is that the commissioners have all necessary information in which to base their decision," Besthorn said.