Extension district would boost efficiency
Dickinson County is best fit to form district
Forming an extension district would allow extension agents to specialize and do their work more efficiently, K-State Research and Extension Agent Rickey Roberts said in an informational meeting Thursday in Hillsboro.
Roberts used himself as an example. He serves as the agriculture agent in Marion County, providing information about a range of topics including crop sciences, animal sciences, lawn and garden care, and agribusiness. He also shares 4-H responsibilities with Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Nancy Pihl.
“We try hard to be all things to all people,” Roberts said, adding that it is difficult to do well.
If Marion County formed an extension district with Dickinson County — as has been proposed — he might be able to narrow his area of expertise and deepen his knowledge in that area.
Why Dickinson County?
Dickinson County is the best fit for Marion County to create a district because of compatibility in geography, population, property values, agriculture, and personnel, Roberts said.
Butler, Harvey, and McPherson counties would be unlikely to consider districting with Marion County because their populations and property valuations are so much higher, he said.
Chase and Morris counties are less attractive to Marion County because of their smaller sizes. While Dickinson County has a bit more people and a bit more taxable property value than Marion County, the two counties are close enough in those respects to make it an attractive match, Roberts said.
The extension boards and agents in Marion and Dickinson counties work well with each other, he said, and the counties are cooperating on matters related to the Keystone oil pipeline.
Roberts said he has heard concerns speaking with county residents about the possibility of forming a district.
The most common is a worry that a district would lead to a loss of control to Dickinson County. If the counties formed a district, there would be a publicly elected board with four members from each county. If Dickinson County representatives tried to monopolize Research and Extension services, the representatives from Marion County could stop it, because a tie vote fails.
Another concern people have expressed is that the county would lose its annual county fair. That wouldn’t happen, because the fair is controlled by a separate entity — the Marion County Fair Association. Extension agents work closely with the fair because of its association with 4-H, but it is governed separately.
Some residents told Roberts they worried districting would cause the office in Marion County to close. Marion County Commissioners could include a provision to keep the local office open in the operations agreement required to form a district, he said.
In a previous meeting with Marion County Commissioners, he presented data that showed other districts had reduced their mill levies over time.
An extension district would have an eight-member elected board, but the initial board would be composed of members appointed by the county commissions. The board would have taxing authority, similar to cemetery, fire, hospital, and library districts.
Marion County’s four representatives would be chosen in at-large elections rather than by subdistricts.