Unless funding is restored, Cornell Cooperative Extension services in Cattaraugus County could be out of business.
Diane Baker, extension director, said she remains hopeful some of the $254,840 that was eliminated from the budget can be returned prior to the budget's approval on Tuesday. If it is not, she said, programs such as 4-H and agricultural education help for farmers are in jeopardy.
"I know the legislature is in a tough position," she said, adding she is not blaming anyone but remains concerned the cut will be "devastating."
The county usually provides some funding for the agency, but did not include it, and several other agencies, in its tentative 2012 spending plan being reviewed by lawmakers. She said if county money is not available, the agency will also lose state funding it uses to provide fringe benefits to employees.
Ms. Baker said if changes are not made, Cooperative Extension would have to close its Cattaraugus County office. There are 20 employees who work in the Ellicottville building, though 12 employees may be able to be relocated elsewhere, with the rest of employees being laid off.
A 4-H staff member who spends half her time in Allegany County would be removed from the Cattaraugus County office as well.
Ms. Baker said about 500 youth a year participate in the 4-H program in Cattaraugus County.
"It would definitely affect all of them," she said.
The cuts could also impact the Cattaraugus County Fair, where they exhibit work. John Charlesworth of Cattaraugus County's Agriculture Society, which runs the Cattaraugus County Fair, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
"I'm hoping it doesn't come to that," Ms. Baker said.
She said the 4-H programs build life skills suchs as problem solving, decision making and teaching youth to become productive adults. In addition, she said, youth simply have fun by participating in 4-H.
In addition to the 4-H program, she said, the agency also provides assistance in agriculture and economic development pertaining to agriculture. The three positions assigned to do agricultural work would also be lost in Cattaraugus County if funding is not restored, she said.
"We are one of the few entities that is a totally education organization," she said, adding Cornell Cooperative Extension provides research-based information through its access to land grant universities.
Legislative committees have been reviewing the tentative 2012 budget this week.
The budget proposal eliminates funding for numerous agencies including YMCA Child Care, Olean Child Daycare, the Seneca Nation Daycare, the SPCA, Cattaraugus County's Arts Council, the Salamanca Rail Museum and the county federated sportsmen. Funding for most county departments would be cut and the budget includes 80 layoffs.
The legislature's Finance Committee will review changes recommended by other committees during a meeting today. A public hearing on the plan they approve Thursday will be held Nov. 22.