COLUMBIA, Mo.– On July 2, Gov. Jay Nixon signed House Bill 542 into law. This legislation gives University of Missouri Extension county councils the option to work with one or more other county councils to form extension districts.
“The main purpose of the district option is to help counties increase efficiencies and reduce costs by working together,” said Michael Ouart, MU vice provost and director of extension. “By reducing administrative expenses through sharing, councils can redirect savings to programs that directly affect the lives of residents.”
Ouart notes that the legislation does not require councils to form districts. “This is an option and nothing more,” he said. “But it’s an important option for many counties that struggle to maintain extension services during times of limited funding.”
Similar legislation exists in 26 other states, including Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky and Tennessee. In these states, Ouart said, districting has helped extension offices remain open and continue to provide residents the extension services they rely on.
“This legislation allows for local solutions,” said H.C. Russell, chair of the University of Missouri Extension State Council. “It provides county councils greater control over how they manage their costs and gives communities more flexibility to dedicate resources to extension programs that best meet their needs.”
County councils in an extension district would appoint representatives to a governing board. “Forming an extension district would not diminish the role of the county councils,” Russell added. “District boards will report to the councils, not the other way around.”
The legislation also allows districts to ask voters to approve a property tax to fund local programs. A majority of voters in each county of a district must approve the proposed tax for it to go into effect.
“Again, this is an option available to districts and not a requirement. Any proposed tax levies must be approved by voters,” Ouart said. “This is a local issue determined by a local vote. Missourians realize the value of extension, but councils also understand that for some communities, a new tax may not be an appropriate or feasible solution to funding challenges.”
MU Extension serves rural and urban populations in every county and the city of St. Louis, drawing on the knowledge and experience of regional specialists as well as faculty on the four UM System campuses and Lincoln University Cooperative Extension. Specialists and faculty reach diverse audiences through educational programs, publications, websites, social media and one-on-one consultations.
MU Extension delivers programs throughout the state in community development, business, agriculture and natural resources, 4-H youth development, and human environmental sciences. Extension’s continuing education programs in areas such as law enforcement, fire and rescue training, nursing and other fields draw mid-career professionals from across the U.S.
Every year, more than 1.3 million Missourians participate in MU Extension programs, and some 2,000 volunteers serve on county extension councils to identify needs in their communities and work with extension faculty in delivering and evaluating programs.