ALBANY, GA (WALB) – The proposed University of Georgia budget cuts could close almost 80 county extension offices across the state, eliminate the 4-H programs, and layoff 263 extension agents.
County extension coordinators say the cuts will affect more people than you might think. One part of the huge proposed budget cuts is a plan to shut down half of the 157 Georgia county extension offices.
Agents say every Georgia restaurant owner, person declaring bankruptcy, and 4-H student could be effected by these closings.
When the new Zaxby's opened, they had to send their managers to the Servsafe certification two day training program mandated by the state. They and every Georgia restaurant get that training through the county extension office.
"I'm the person they have to come see to get that training," said Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences Suzanne Williams.
If you declare bankruptcy in Georgia, you have to receive financial training, and the extension service is the only free source. "In order for the judge to sign off and get the bankruptcy, they have to come and see me and get some training," Williams said.
If the Dougherty County extension office closed, all the Albany restaurants, day care workers, or bankruptcy filers would have to travel to the nearest office left open. "If you have to go 50 to 60 miles away to get a training after work, that's not going to be good. It's going to inconvenience a lot of people," Williams said
Anthony Jones teaches 1,150 students in Dougherty County life and leadership lessons through the 4-H program. Proposed state budget cuts would end the 4-H program, started in 1904, and Jones says that would have a devastating effect, possibly increasing crime and gangs.
"With so many things happening we need as much youth enrichment programs for these young people," Jones said.
County extension agents work with farmers, benefiting the state's number one industry, agriculture. "With the jobs that will be cut, some of the research will end. And therefore we won't be able to get as much of the information out to the farmers at a needed time," said Dougherty Extension Office Coordinator James Morgan.
Extension agents say most people think they only give cooking and sewing advice, but if county offices are closed, it could have a wider effect than most Georgians realize. Employees in the county extension offices are of course worried about their own jobs, right now at least 263 jobs could be lost.
Wednesday, the University systems chancellor urged Georgia lawmakers to soften the blow on the university's budget cuts. It could be several weeks before lawmakers approve a budget for the next fiscal year.