Fall 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW3

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Did Extension Pay Its Way?


William G. Owen
Extension Agent, Environmental Education/CNRD
Painesville, Ohio

Barbara G. Ludwig
Northeast District Supervisor
Wooster, Ohio

Kenneth Thorne
Vice-president, Extension Advisory Committee
Mentor, Ohio

Reduced tax revenues and the cost of a new county jail led to two years of budget cuts to all nonmandated, county-supported agencies. Funding for the Extension office had been reduced by 70% and staff positions were threatened. Efforts to increase funding by demonstrating Extension's impact on the county and its citizens' quality of life had little effect. The commissioners indicated that many nonmandated agencies were doing "good things," but that the available funds couldn't support all of them.

Therefore, it became necessary to rethink traditional approaches to documenting Extension impact. An advisory committee member with a financial background suggested we determine what revenues Extension programming generated for the county general fund. Did Extension pay its own way? Would reducing the budget with the resultant staff losses cost the county more than it saved? The question was addressed both for new funds generated as well as dollars saved by each Extension program area.

Extension programming generated revenues in two ways: (1) increased permissive sales tax collected on new sales and (2) personal property tax collected on increased inventory and equipment. Each program area was scrutinized to determine if new businesses, increased sales, or new jobs resulted from the teaching activities. While it was difficult to determine the effects of programming on established businesses, new or newly expanded businesses proved much easier to quantify. In total, it was demonstrated that over $78,000 in new income was generated for the county general fund that year, with the community and natural resources development phase generating the most income. If a method of determining impact on existing businesses was available, the figures would have been much higher.

The second method of determining impact to the general fund was to document expenditures not made by the commissioners because of Extension activities. Again, each program area was examined and dollar values determined. Only well-documented cases of savings were included. These included consultant work provided by agents, the value of a countywide litter prevention program, savings as individuals got off the welfare roles, and children kept out of detention home by 4-H involvement (county percentages were used to determine this factor).

In total, over $55,000 of savings were documented with community development again generating the greatest savings. The new income generated combined with the savings documented showed that Extension had a positive impact of almost $140,000 on the county general fund. The total Extension budget from the county was only $50,000. Extension generated at least $90,000 more than it cost!

These figures, along with arguments for the social impact of Extension programs were presented to the county commissioners by members of the county Extension Advisory Committee. They stressed that the proposed cuts would eliminate programs that generated a return of nearly 200%. Three weeks later, the commissioners approved a $30,000 increase in the Extension budget. The increase was due to the combined efforts of many people stressing the value of each component of Extension. Documenting the economic impact of Extension programs provided two new tools for use with the commissioners: (1) actual figures showing the benefits Extension contributes to the general fund and (2) justification for the commissioners to provide funding to Extension while cutting other budgets.

In rethinking the traditional methods of marketing the need for Extension programming, the local economic value of those programs shouldn't be overlooked. Did Extension pay its own way? Based on increased funding from the county commissioners, the answer in Lake County is a resounding yes!