Budget impasse concerns Penn State Extension director

March 17, 2016
Joseph Conklin, the Penn State Extension’s district director for Greene, Fayette and Washington counties, addressed the Greene County commissioners Thursday. - Mike Jones/Observer-Reporter Order a Print

WAYNESBURG – Penn State Extension will shut down this summer if a full state budget is not passed soon, the local director told the Greene County commissioners Thursday.

Joseph Conklin, the extension’s district director for Greene, Fayette and Washington counties, said the agency is continuing its full slate of programs despite the year-long state budget impasse, but that it will have to shut down in July if a resolution isn’t reached soon.

“The budget needs to be passed in some shape or form or we’re going to disappear,” Conklin said. “The clock is ticking and the money is running out.”

His comments during the commissioners’ Thursday morning voting meeting came a day after the state legislature passed the remaining parts of last year’s state budget that fund a variety of state agencies, although it is expected to be vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf. The Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic governor reached a partial agreement in January that funded basic education and human services programs, but they continue to feud over funding levels for many other agencies.

Penn State University has given the extension a $32 million loan to keep it running for the past year, but that money is quickly running out, Conklin said. The extension’s annual budget for the past fiscal year was supposed to be $50.5 million, Conklin said.

If last year’s full budget is not passed soon, Conklin said they will get begin issuing notices of a potential shutdown May 1 and will have to cease operations July 1.

“We’re stuck in the same situation as everyone else,” Conklin said of receiving partial funding from alternative sources. “We’re acting as if (a total shutdown) isn’t going to happen.”

Commission Chairman Blair Zimmerman said the board understands their plight having dealt with similar issues last year on how to partially fund the county’s Department of Human Services without state money. He said they and other county commissioners are pushing the state legislators and governor to find a solution to the last year’s budget soon.

“Just like everyone else, we want a (full) budget, not a partial budget,” Zimmerman said. “This type of thing should never happen and never happen again.”

Christina Becker, the 4-H’s educator in Greene County, said they’re also continuing to organize events for the group’s 500 children in the county, but the budget situation could affect many summer activities.

“People are starting to get nervous since it’s dragged on,” Becker said, adding that children and parents are wondering if they’ll be able to show their livestock at the county fair. “Families are worried.”

However, she also listed numerous upcoming events and said attendance at many events is exceeding expectations.

“We have real concerns, but we’re moving forward,” Becker told the commissioners. “The kids are excited about (the programs) and are participating.”

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and Patch.com. He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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