Finney County and Scott County are on track to combine their Kansas State University Extension Offices into a regional district, ideally offering more resources to both locations.

The move, received favorably Monday by the Finney County Commission, is one built on more effectively using in-place resources. Instead of pushing Finney County’s three agents and Scott City’s two agents to cover more areas of study, the district would allow the five agents the time to specialize in certain areas and offer that expertise to farmers, agriculture workers and families in both counties. Programs only offered at one office will now be offered at both.

Carl Garten, district Extension director for Saline County’s office, answered questions, retracing his experience combining the Saline and Ottawa counties offices into a district. The process echoed what Finney and Scott hope to do: form a partnership between a populous county and its less populous neighbor.

“I think that’s usually the main reason you’d like to district. Agents that are able to specialize can become much more knowledgeable in the subject area they’re covering ... The detail versus, in the past, ‘I can give you some general thoughts about what I might do,’ ” Garten said.

The change isn’t a new one, said Mary Sullivan, regional Extension director. Half of Kansas’ Extension offices have already organized into a district, including those in Haskell, Stevens and Seward counties and Lane, Ness and Rush counties. So far, southwest and south central Kansas are lone regions of independence in a state largely leaning toward collaborative districts.

Other neighboring counties could join Finney and Scott counties’ district in the future.

The change would require both Finney County and K-State to dedicate more funds to the local Extension. Finney County would likely contribute about $242,000, versus $135,000 now, while Scott County would contribute about $43,700, versus $162,000 now. Scott County, which has roughly one-seventh of Finney County’s population, would still being paying more per capita, according to a budget comparison. Per districting rules, K-State would also contribute an additional $10,000.

The transition will likely take about a year, Sullivan said. After wrapping up informal meetings with commissioners this month, agents at both offices will gauge local support for the change, develop an educational campaign and ask each county’s commission to approve the district. If approved, locals will have 60 days to petition against the district forming, she said.

If no one protests, agents will seek approval from the Kansas attorney general, negotiate space agreements with the county commissioners and form a board of directors for the district with equal representation from each county.

Despite having questions about the initial budget breakdown, Pishny said he was in support of the district. The benefits were substantial, he said, and the protest period gave residents a chance to take action against it, should they wish.

Deann Gillen, president of the Finney County Extension, said the move offers more opportunities for Finney County, including opening up to new agents with new specialties. She said both counties would still run their county fairs separately.

“By the agents being specialized, we get more expertise, more programs. Kids get to do different things that we don’t have here that Scott City would have. So, it’s a win-win,” Gillen said.

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.