A temporary freeze due to budgetary reasons is to blame, but Crook County 4-H activities will go on as planned

The Crook County 4-H Youth Development Educator position has been vacant since Lindsay Walker left the job in late December, and there are no plans to fill that position anytime soon.

"We're putting that position in a temporary freeze at this time," said 4-H Youth Development Program Leader Pamela Rose, who works at the state office in Corvallis. "Crook County is not the only vacancy that we have open. There are state-funded 4-H positions that are vacant at this time, and we have put a temporary freeze on hiring due to budgetary reasons."

The Crook County 4-H Youth Development Educator is in charge of the 4-H Program, which serves 350 to 400 youth participants and 80 adult volunteers.

OSU Extension Agent Tim Deboodt had said earlier this month that they had hoped to have someone on board by July 1, in time for fair season. They even held a meet-and-greet for the public to meet the final three candidates on May 21.

But those hopes were dashed last week when they got word that OSU would not fill the position due to the budget shortfall.

Rose said the hiring freeze halted some hiring decisions that were in process and others that had not yet begun for six counties.

"In the short run, there are events going on all summer, and those events are organized, and our existing support staff, Katy Joyce and Kim Herber, will make sure those go on," Deboodt said, noting that that includes the Crook County Fair.

Rose said it was a difficult decision to institute a temporary freeze for state-funded 4-H positions. In the current and past biennial budgets, OSU Extension Service, which is responsible for the 4-H Youth Development Program in Oregon, has not received funding at the continuing service level needed to keep up with cost increases.

"To ensure fiscal responsibility, I needed to make decisions now to put the Oregon 4-H program budget on track in a positive direction for fiscal year 2019 and beyond," Rose said.

Rose said the 4-H Program has additional staff that Crook County 4-H can call upon, including state 4-H staff and other regional support.

"We are working hard to ensure that counties, like Crook County, will be provided with appropriate additional assistance from other 4-H faculty in order to provide a positive experience for their 4-H youth," Rose said.

She noted that 90 percent of the 4-H Program budget is payroll.

"The best way that we can provide support to the program is through the capacity of our 4-H faculty across the state," Rose said. "But when those funds are not there, we have to deal with looking at either finding additional resources or having these temporary situations, where we have to be more creative with resources."

She said the state is still very committed to the program in Crook County.

"It's a valuable program, and there are valuable families and youth there that we want to continue to serve as best as we can," Rose said.

Walker came to the local 4-H Program in June of 2015 and left in December 2017. Since her departure, volunteers have stepped in to help as well as neighboring and state 4-H faculty. Those folks provide assistance in resources, ideas, teaching and various other needs, Rose said.

Deboodt said the 4-H Youth Development Educator provides leadership to the 4-H program, which includes management, volunteer recruitment, youth leadership development, education support for volunteers, and training.

Rose did not have a specific answer about when the hiring freeze would be lifted but said it's an ongoing analysis.

"The focus at the moment is what will become the long-term direction of the program," Deboodt said, adding that the local staff will be able to handle the day-to-day duties. "The program will stay here, I'm sure. It's not going to go away, hopefully. But, the question is, where will the leadership for the program come from?"

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