Commissioners again defund 4-H

In a 2-1 vote, the Board of Josephine County Commissioners voted to withhold funding from the 4/H Extension Service District for the 2024-2025 fiscal year. This occurred during the board’s weekly business session Friday, June 28 at the Anne G. Basker Auditorium in Grants Pass.
Oregon State University Extension Services has been the center of a controversy in recent years following a series of incidents that created the perception for some members of the community that 4/H organizers are pushing a “woke agenda” onto youth participants. Among these was a situation where a group was forbidden from wearing uniforms displaying religious symbols at a livestock auction.
One opponent of the program, Mike Pelphrey, said, “4/H has changed, and you can clearly see that there’s an agenda that’s directly aimed at our kids, and as commissioners we voted for you because we hope that you will actually listen to We the People and know that our children are important but they are also the future of this county and this city. We don’t need our children to be targets of an agenda that is absolutely unacceptable.”
Sue Densmore, chair of the OSU 4/H Foundation, defended her organization at the meeting: “This is a wonderful program. It’s different in every county. Each child has their own choice, as does a family, whether they would be joining 4/H or be influenced by 4/H. No one is forcing anybody to be in 4/H. It’s an incredible program; many people learn life skills through 4/H and it really shouldn’t be political or have any other influences in it.”
Several meeting participants suggested the commissioners fund OSU Extension for the coming fiscal year and put a measure on the November ballot asking voters whether they want to continue supporting the programs with their tax dollars.
“I highly suggest that you fully fund the extension programs as they are for one year and I challenge you to put it on the November ballot,” 4/H supporter Debbie Thomason said. “It’s not going to cost you anything. Let the voters decide. Let your community decide, just as they decide who’s going to be here in office. I’m very proud of our County and I know that the job that you do is tough. You have control of the situation and we don’t. Right now all I’m asking is for you to consider fully funding it for one year, put it in on the November ballot and let the voters decide.”
Another community member who defended 4/H, Pam Zachlin, said, “The kids of Josephine County are counting on you to continue providing opportunities in our community for students to be involved in 4/H… Also, being exposed to an agenda, I have no idea what this guy is talking about but what agenda they are talking about and teaching in 4/H is life skills, computer skills, taking care of livestock skills, learning gardening skills, but not only that – it’s not just about the students or the livestock – it’s about the people in this community you were elected to represent.”
After public testimony, all three commissioners signaled support for a November ballot measure to let voters decide the fate of OSU Extension programs.

First to respond to public comments, Commissioner Dan DeYoung made the argument that it would be unjust to do away with the broad, numerous services offered by OSU Extension just because of a dispute regarding one of these programs. He reiterated the stance he’s taken at prior meetings that defunding OSU Extension wouldn’t just be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it would be throwing the whole family out, as he said at a previous discussion. DeYoung also argued that it would be more costly to employ horticulturists and other experts for farming and gardening instruction in Josephine County than it would be to keep Master Gardeners and other educational programs offered by OSU Extension up and running.

Commissioner Herman Baertschiger said he believes “there’s value in 4/H,” but criticized OSU for his perception that they have not been transparent about how they use their money

“We submitted seven questions; the reply answered one question out of seven,” Baertschiger lamented. “If you wish to see the documentations feel free to stop by the commissioner’s office after the meeting and I will give them. They answered one out of seven questions for $218 that a state senator had to pay I find that appalling that a state agency charges a state senator for information and I have a funny feeling it’s going to adversely affect how some people perceive Oregon State Extension Service in the legislature. Bad move.”

Board Chair John West felt the same, saying, “I don’t believe OSU is being transparent.” He added, “I believe that Master Gardeners is very important to a lot of people, to a lot of folks in this community, but it’s not just Master Gardeners, it’s the whole program. And when I evaluate it at the end of the day my feeling is that OSU has all the gain and that Josephine County doesn’t have that much to lose depending on the vote today.

“I think it could be restructured. I think the voters will send a clear message that it’s time to support Master Gardeners, it’s time to support all the programs, but support it in a different manner.”

DeYoung made a motion to continue funding OSU Extension for the next fiscal year, with the caveat that a measure be placed on the November ballot to either continue funding of do away with the district. His motion failed due to lack of a second.

Baertschiger then made the following motion: “I move that the governing body of the Josephine County 4/H Extension Service District hereby adopts the budget for fiscal year 2024-2025 in the amount of zero which includes no appropriations and be it further resolved that the following appropriations be made for the Josephine County 4/H Extension Service District for fiscal year beginning July 1, 2024 and ending June 30, 2025: general fund appropriations and personal services – zero; material services – zero; contingency – zero; total appropriations of general fund – zero; total appropriations of all funds – zero; total unappropriated general fund – $262,500; total unappropriated reserve fund – $37,300; total adopted budget, all funds – $632,000 and be it further resolved that the ad valorem property taxes imposed for tax year 2024-2025 are at the rate of $0 per $100,000 assessed value.”

In simpler terms, Baertschiger proposed cutting off any further financial support or tax collection in support of OSU Extension, leaving the programs with only their existing funds.

After West seconded Baertschiger’s motion, the two commissioners voted in favor of defunding the district while DeYoung voted against.

DeYoung expressed concern regarding what would happen to the $632,000 possessed by the Extension Services District if OSU were to pull out of the county. Finance Director Sandy Novak said the funds would remain with the district, and the legal department would have to weigh in regarding if the funds could be retained by the county or refunded to taxpayers.

The motion to put a measure on the ballot regarding OSU Extension was not made at the meeting, but with all three commissioners supporting such an action, it will likely come in the near future.