AgCenter officials plead with council to keep funding

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 25, 2013

Representatives from the Franklinton office of the LSU AgCenter made an impassioned plea to Washington Parish officials to continue subsidizing the local operation.

Parish Council members on Monday night heard from AgCenter employees, one member of the 4H club and a mother of a 4H student during a 30-minute presentation during the Parish Council meeting Monday night. Even former agent Henry Harrison addressed the council.

“We appreciate your support and understand the situation y’all are in right now,” said Valerie Vincent, parish chair for the AgCenter. “It would be devastating to the AgCenter to lose the local funding we do have. It would affect day to day operations.”

Council members have said publicly that because of the parish’s financial struggles funding for nonmandated expenses may be cut. The parish currently allocates $16,000 annually to the AgCenter.

“We support y’all 100 percent, and we thank you for what you’re doing,” Councilman Mike Fussell said. “But in reality some of the funding may be cut to some of these agencies. We’re looking at hard times in our budget.

“We’re going to try to continue to support y’all, but unless we get some funding from somewhere. . .I hope we don’t have to cut you off.”

AgCenter Regional Dir ector Dr. Bobby Flet cher said that for every $2 the parish contrib utes, $8 comes back to the agency through the federal and state governments.

“Where you can make that investment?” Flet cher asked. “We want to challenge you to continue to support that.”

He added the agency would like to be able to add another agent to the staff, so the parish funding is even more critical.

Fletcher said the AgCenter’s Southeast Research Center, located west of Franklinton, would remain open and that a beef specialist has been hired. The center currently has a payroll of 25 employees.

“(The center) is not closing, and they can put that on the record,” he said. “I’ve been fighting to keep that open. I know our legislative delegation and some (council members) have been supporting that.”

The cuts could come as parish officials make decisions about balancing the budget. At least three parish employees are likely to be laid off today, and in the near future the parish administration office could be closed one day at week.

Subsidies to other agencies, including the veterans office, recreation district and Council on Aging are also threatened, but perhaps none are as high profiled or have the historic impact of the AgCenter.

The popular 4H program has more than 2,200 young people involved, and several council members and President Richard Thomas are former 4H members.

“You are in friendly territory,” Councilman Aubrey Posey told the AgCenter contingent. “However, if things get beyond our control, then we’ll have to do what we’ve got to do. I sympathize with you, and we’re going to do what we can.”

Councilman Chuck Nassauer said he believes that because of the mandated expenses the state is taking the parish’s finances out of its control.

“(The state) is taking a lot of this checkbook away from us,” he said. “They’re saying it’s not your money, it’s the state’s money, and you have to pay these state mandated fees.”