Josephine County Defunds 4-H OSU Extension for 2023-24

Josephine County property owners, you’ve just received a tax cut. On June 7, two Josephine County commissioners voted to defund 4-H and other OSU Extension services for the fiscal year beginning on July 1.

Acting as the governing body for the OSU Extension Service District, the Board of County Commissioners voted 2-1 to stop charging the 4.6 cents per thousand property tax levy that made up the county’s contribution to the district. Commissioner Herman Baertschiger and Commissioner John West voted in favor of the motion, and Commissioner Dan DeYoung voted against it. The tax was expected to generate $414,000 for the OSU Extension District during the fiscal year.

During the meeting, 20 members of the public commented for and against continuing to fund the OSU Extension program, which includes 4-H. Those in favor of continuing to fund the district pointed to current services for adults such as the Strong Women exercise program and the Master Gardener program.

Those opposed to funding the district included many former volunteer 4-H leaders. These parents expressed exasperation with a 4-H program that had changed in recent years after the Extension Service implemented a new “Religious Neutrality Policy” put in place on a state level. The volunteers explained how this new policy resulted in one club, led by Christian ministry Joe’s Place, being excluded from 4-H because “Joe” stands for “Jesus Over Everything.” Speakers also reported that members of the Faithful Farmers Club were told to wear their shirts inside out at last year Josephine County Fair because the shirts’ graphic included a cross yet no 4-H symbol.

Nancy Nelson described her experience protecting local swine from a national swine virus. “I received no support from the local [Extension] office” and had to protect local swine “on my own dime.” She concluded her remarks with, “We get zero responses to our letters sent to 4-H about our concerns.”

Since last year’s fair, more than 300 young people have left 4-H to join a newly formed organization, Youth & Ag of Josephine County. One of the founders, Jen McGowen, said at the meeting that kids never saw a dollar of the $30 fee each one paid to 4-H. She wrote about her experiences in an article in the April 14, 2023, Josephine County Eagle, “Fed Up Parents Launch Alternative to 4-H Clubs.”

Commissioners Baertschiger and West also voted to terminate the legal services agreement between the county and the OSU Extension Service District, effective July 15.

During the commissioners’ discussion, DeYoung said, “Let’s pump the brakes for a year. 4-H needs to address these concerns. We should give 4-H the chance to change.”

West said, “Of those opposed to cutting the funding, 87% said nothing about the kids. We’ve taken the focus off the kids and put it on the adults. When you see a program dive 85% in one year there’s a problem.”

Baertschiger pointed out that the ending balance of the program on June 30 will fully fund services through the next year, saying, “We are pumping the brakes. It gives them a year. It’s a failing administration. They know they have a problem, and they have not solved it.”

Because 4-H did not address the problem, concerned parents left 4-H to form a new organization without taxpayer funding and without rules and regulations set by officials at OSU or in Washington, D.C. In the next year, OSU Extension may find a new source of funding to continue adult programs for exercise and gardening. Or another organization may begin offering these programs.

OSU Extension fixing its 4-H program now is like slamming the barn door shut after the horses, cows, goats and chickens have escaped. In Josephine County, the kids and critters have left 4-H, and may be gone forever.

Richard Emmons is the Publisher and Editor of the Josephine County Eagle.