COEUR d'ALENE - Aiming for a more efficient arrangement, the Kootenai County commissioners will decide today if the county will no longer manage aspects of the University of Idaho Extension Office.
The officials will vote at their business meeting this afternoon whether to adopt an agreement with the university, under which the Extension Office's finances and employees would be administered by the university and not the county.
Although the change could mean an increase of roughly $10,000 in costs for the Extension Office, said department head Jim Wilson, he doesn't expect the extension's community programs to be impacted much.
"There's always potential we might have to look at just what programs can we continue to offer, but at this point, we're not planning any significant reductions in programs," Wilson said.
Under the proposed agreement, the county would still provide and maintain office space for the Extension Office at 1808 N. Third St. in Coeur d'Alene.
The county would also make good on the $140,000 budgeted for the extension this fiscal year.
But the university would assume all responsibility for hiring and supervising office staff and extension educators. County positions at the extension would become university employees.
The county would not be responsible for funding mileage, meals and lodging for extension personnel during their educational programs or conferences.
The university would also choose how to budget the county's funding.
This would establish a "cleaner" management of the extension, said Commissioner Dan Green.
There would no longer be risk of complications from university employees overseeing county workers, he said. The commissioners wouldn't have to approve all extension expenditures.
"The state will have more autonomy on how they spend the money," said Green. "It relieves the county of liabilities, too."
Commissioner Jai Nelson pointed out that all the extension's travel purchases have been going through the county Auditor's Office.
"We didn't think that was necessary," she said.
The county has been considering this change since last year, said Commissioner Todd Tondee, when officials suggested axing all extension funding.
"We looked at it at that time and said, 'Hey, could this be run a better way?'" Tondee said.
Wilson said that as far as he knows, the county has managed the Extension Office since the partnership was created in 1917.
Transitioning the county employees to university authority will increase benefit costs, he said, adding that the Extension Office has three and a half county positions.
Hopefully some office adjustments could offset the costs, he said.
"I think we'll be looking at how can we look at doing things more cost effectively," Wilson said. "We'll put our best foot forward and continue to work effectively with the partnership."
He doesn't expect the change to hinder extension programs, like 4H, Family and Consumer Sciences and Master Gardener.
Nelson noted that, including in-kind services like janitorial work, the county pays more than $200,000 a year supporting the Extension Office.
The agreement would be in effect from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2013.
The commissioners will vote on the agreement at their 2 p.m. meeting at the county Administration Building.
Tondee said cutting extension funding could always come up again.
"I support the extension process and what we're doing, but each year we look at our money coming in and our money going out," he said.