Tennessee State University has agreed to help fund an agriculture extension agent in Warren County’s UT office. The full-time person could cost the county up to $15,000 annually.
According to University of Tennessee Agriculture Extension Office director Dale Beaty, TSU offered to hire an extension agent to work here if the county would agree to pay one-third of the salary.
Last year, the county lost a UT Extension agent during budget cuts. That agent was paid for jointly by UT and Warren County. When the UT eliminated the position, the county also pulled its funds.
Per the contract with TSU, the position will cost the county 33 percent of the salary and retirement of the individual. Annual salary could range from $31,000 to $34,000 depending on education level. Retirement will be 13 percent of salary, of which the county would be expected to pay 33 percent.
Beaty presented to information to the Economic Development and Agricultural Committee on Tuesday.
“Salary and benefits will cost the county roughly $13,000 to $15,000 a year,” said Beaty. “That is less than what the county paid annually for the last UT Extension agent. I think the county was paying $17,000 for him. There’s a savings in that.”
The county’s fiscal year does not begin until July. Beaty says he needs funds to pay the portion of the county’s share of the agreement until those funds can be added into the next fiscal budget, if that is what county commissioners want to do.
“Also, I think TSU would appreciate a letter of understanding or memorandum of understanding that the county would finance this position,” said Beaty. “That it’s not going to be a question in July. I would hate to hire this person and on July 1 not have any money to pay him or her.”
Commissioner Les Trotman says he is in favor of the measure in order to bring back the level of service in the 4-H program.
“For the sake of the children, we need to put this back in place for them,” Trotman said. “Personally, I have seen the benefit of 4-H for children. We had it before. It cost us more before and we can do it again at a discount.”
Currently, the county is facing a $1 million reduction in revenue if the wheel tax fails to pass. County Executive John Pelham says maybe the decision should wait until the county sees how the wheel tax referendum goes March 6.
“I was hoping this decision would wait until we know something,” Pelham said.
To that statement, Trotman added, “The referendum doesn’t have anything to do with this. It doesn’t go for that.”
While the funds generated through the wheel tax do not go to 4-H, making up those funds, if lost, could affect other programs offered by the county, according to Pelham.
“It doesn’t go for education, but if you lose the money for education, you will have to pull from other places to benefit education,” said Pelham. “I know we still have to do things. I’m kind of playing devil’s advocate.”
Beaty asked for county commissioners to allow the agreement with TSU to prevent a possible staffing shortage that might hinder the 4-H offerings.
“I would appreciate the court’s backing on this,” he said. “Folks, I go to bed at night thinking I’m going to lose Jamie Harris. There is an area 4-H specialist position that’s open. Quite frankly, I could lose her to that. Then, we are behind a little bit.”
Commissioner George Smartt made a motion to draft a memorandum of understand to TSU stating the county will assist with the salary and benefits of an TSU Extension agent to work in Warren County, with the memorandum to first go through Budget & Finance Committee for its consideration.
Committee members voted unanimously with Commissioners Trotman, Smartt, Wayne Copeland and Ron Lee voting in favor of the motion. Commissioner Gary Prater was absent.