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      U of I Extension to go through major changes

      The face of the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service program will change in the upcoming year.

      Illinois Extension coordinates the 4-H and Ag in the Classroom programs, among many others for adults and farmers in the area.

      Because of late state reimbursements and huge budget cuts, county offices across the state will be consolidated to save money and stay afloat.

      Will folks see changes in services and programs?

      Carrie Edgar, Director of the Extension Office for Adams and Brown counties said, "We hope not. That's our goal, is to offer strong research-based programming. My hope is that there will be as little interruptions as possible to programming."

      She says the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service *is* going through a major reorganization which will change how and where extension educators will work. The Adams-Brown County office in Quincy has gotten by so far, with cutbacks, local funding and some reserves. But the bigger picture isn't pretty.

      The Extension's financial issues stem from one place - the state of Illinois, which is more than 350 thousand dollars behind in payments to the Adams-Brown extension office. Without state payments since July totaling more than 50 percent of its budget and even tougher state cutbacks expected for this year, extension offices like the Adams-Brown office located in Quincy face some tough decisions. University of Illinois is asking all county offices to look at mergers with neighboring counties.

      The reorganization also will mean the loss of jobs. Right now, each extension office has a director and educators on staff.

      But once counties are merged, directors and educators will have to reapply for their jobs. More than half of the directors on staff will be let go when the changes are finalized and take effect in July of next year.

      But the changes aren't finalized yet, which means the future is unclear for many Extension employees, who won't know if they'll have a job around 4-H fair time next year.

      We also talked with the Cooperative Extension office in McDonough County. Officials there also are drafting proposals to merge with other neighboring counties, as all other extension offices are.

      There are three regional extension centers in western Illinois...East Peoria, Springfield and Macomb. One regional extension office will be closed *prior* to the reorganization. Macomb's center will close June 30th, but this immediate closure will not affect the county extension office in McDonough County.