June 2008 // Volume 46 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW1

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Supporting Extension via Levies in Ohio

The article examines the experience of five rural Ohio counties that support local Extension programming through voter approved property tax levies. It describes briefly the current state of Extension funding in Ohio and outlines the option of funding county programs via levies in counties where county commissioners could no longer provide dollars due to state mandates and shrinking tax bases. Suggestions for campaign committees and campaign financing are provided, as are various campaign strategies. Advantages and disadvantages of levy funding are also presented.

Bruce P. Zimmer
Assistant Professor and Extension Educator
4-H Youth Development
Woodsfield, Ohio

Beth D. Gaydos
Associate Professor and Extension Educator
Family and Consumer Sciences
Caldwell and Woodsfield, Ohio

E. Michael Lloyd
Assistant Professor and Extension Educator
Community Development
Caldwell, Ohio

Ohio State University Extension


Local funding for county Extension offices in Ohio has traditionally come via county commissioners allocations. In fiscal year 2006, 27.7% ($18.1 million dollars) of total Extension funds originated from counties, while the remaining 72.3% ($47.2 million dollars) came from federal, state, and other funds. While support for Extension remains strong on the county level, financial support for Extension from the counties is not mandated. As competition for limited funds has increased, some Ohio counties have initiated tax levies to fund local Extension operations.

Levies in Ohio

When informed by County Commissioners that funds would be eliminated for Extension, five Ohio counties obtained local funds from voter-approved tax levies on real and tangible personal property. All of these counties are rural, with populations between 12,800 and 16,000. The levies either restored or increased previous funding and currently generate between $107,218 and $178,676 annually per county and range from .70 mill to 1.0 mill, as outlined in Table 1. There was no decline in state or federal funds at the time of the levy inception.

Table 1.
Funding Level Before and After Levies

Ohio CountyBudget Before LevyBudget After LevyMill Rates
Noble$ 42,716$112,3351.0
Harrison$ 76,000$143,500.75
Morgan$ 40,111$165,000.80
Vinton$ 57,000$107,218.75

Planning Strategies

In Ohio, County commissioners have the option of placing a levy before the voters. Ohio law dictates a 5-year duration for Extension levies, after which voters would pass a replacement or renewal levy to continue funding.

Because the law prohibits Extension employees from using work time or facilities for campaigning, the county staff must work with an advisory committee and/or create a levy committee to conduct a campaign. The committee typically consists of key leaders who understand local Extension programs. Representation from various program areas and locations in the county are important. Members of the committee should be willing to publicly campaign on the issue.

One of the first challenges for a levy committee is to determine the level of funding necessary to conduct a successful campaign. Funding to support the campaign comes from a variety of sources, including local businesses, individual contributions, and fundraisers. As it is conducting a public campaign, the committee needs to elect a treasurer who will file appropriate campaign finance statements with the local board of elections.

Another financial issue to consider is that auditor's fees are deducted from gross tax settlements before the funds are distributed to Extension. These fees should be considered when the appropriate tax millage is established, as should projected budget needs for a 5-year period.

It is important to consider what other issues will appear on the ballot at the same time. The success of the Extension levy may not depend solely on the perceptions of Extension, but also on other issues appearing on the same ballot. Working with the county prosecuting attorney and the board of elections, ballot language is then prepared and the issue goes before the voters.

Educating Voters

The most important message to convey to voters is a clear explanation of the Extension program. Successful levy campaigns in Ohio thus far have occurred in the most rural counties, where ties with agriculture and the 4-H program may be closer, thus, more people are cognizant of Extension than in metropolitan counties.

Educational efforts need to include six additional messages. Voters need to know why the levy is needed. They need to understand what will happen to the local Extension program if the levy is defeated. The campaign materials should include examples of the cost to the average taxpayer. It has proven effective to express the cost to the taxpayer in terms of comparatives such as "Less than the cost of two pizzas a month." Another technique is to provide an example of the cost for taxes on an average home, such as "Seventy-five dollars a year for property assessed at $100,000."

Voters need to know that the levy funds will be used to support Extension programs and not general government operations. Information should describe how the campaign is being financed and how local dollars generated by the levy will leverage state and federal funds.

Campaign Strategies

Successful grass roots campaign strategies include: brochures and fliers, yard signs, letters to the editor from supporters, displays at fairs and other events, t-shirts, stickers/buttons/pencils, and personal testimonials as paid ads. Limited mass media is used to educate voters since none of the five counties have daily newspapers or radio stations.

Ohio Extension Levy Results

As shown in Table 2, the five Ohio counties currently funded by a property tax levy have placed issues before the voters a total of 14 times, with a 71% success record. One county has been funded by a levy for nearly 20 years.

Table 2.
Levy Success Rates in Ohio



Year County Began to Receive Levy FundsSuccessful Extension LeviesUnsuccessful Extension LeviesTotal Levies on BallotSuccess Rate
Harrison 2002202100%
Average Success Rate71.4 %

Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages of levies include stable funding for 5 years. In many cases, Extension may be receiving an increased level of funding from previous years. This may allow for increased staffing and programming, depending on individual circumstances. Regardless of the outcome of the elections, the campaign effort should result in better public awareness of Extension. A levy also removes the Extension program from annual budget discussions with commissioners.

Disadvantages also exist. Once a levy has been passed, the likelihood of returning to financial support from the county general fund is minimal. To date, no Ohio county has done so. A levy means asking for voter support every 5 years and establishing campaign committees and strategies. Level funding, mentioned as an advantage, may also be a disadvantage. Any changes in state and federal budgets or local cost share increases could put a strain on levy funding which does not change during the lifespan of the levy.


The experiences of Noble, Monroe, Harrison, Morgan, and Vinton Counties may provide a glimpse into the future of local funding for Extension in Ohio. Property tax levies may not be the answer to all county funding issues, but for five rural counties in Ohio it became a necessity. As a result, all five counties increased operating budgets by an average of 50% because of levy funding, which allowed for continued and expanded programs.