County may share Extension agent

Published 10:50 am Saturday, November 28, 2009

COURTLAND—In the wake of both current and future budget cuts from the state, Southampton and Isle of Wight counties may be asked to share Virginia Cooperative Extension agents with multiple localities next year.

VCE Southeast District Director Lonnie Johnson said Friday that the service had not made any firm decisions on how it will restructure but is currently looking to reduce its staff by offering early retirement.

“We are doing an alternative severance option to retire staff,” Johnson said, adding that interested agents “have to apply by Jan. 8. I’m hoping that in the next couple of months we’ll have a feeling about what (staff) we’re going to have, but a lot of it is tied up on campus in Blacksburg. We will look at where our vacancies are.”

Southampton County Administrator Michael Johnson, who is not related to Lonnie Johnson, told the Board of Supervisors on Monday that he, Franklin District Supervisor Walter Young and Isle of Wight County Administrator Douglas Caskey were scheduled to meet with Lonnie Johnson on Nov. 13 to discuss the two counties possibly sharing an extension agent, but the meeting was postponed at Lonnie Johnson’s suggestion because of “further state budget reductions.”

Said Michael Johnson: “Based on the budget reductions, (Lonnie Johnson) indicated that cooperative extension is evaluating a revision of its total staffing model.”

Proposed revisions include reducing the number of districts in the state from six to four, cutting 50 agent positions statewide and reducing the service’s support staff by half.

Also proposed is for VCE to have about 50 local unit coordinators, who would be responsible for providing Agricultural/Natural Resource agents, 4-H agents and Family Consumer Services agents to serve multiple localities.

“We know we will have a (further) cut, but we don’t know the full impact of the cut at this time,” Lonnie Johnson said.

Asked if VCE will still be able to do its job effectively with a smaller staff, Lonnie Johnson said, “I think we will be as strong, if not stronger, in the next couple of years as we’ve ever been.”

Both Southampton and Isle of Wight have been without extension agents for several months. Wes Alexander retired after 30 years of service in Southampton on March 1, and Nathan O’Berry departed Isle of Wight earlier this year. Two administrative assistants, Teisha Evans and Valerie Nichols, have assumed extension agent duties in Southampton and Isle of Wight, respectively.

Southampton and Isle of Wight are both currently in the Southeast District, which also includes seven other counties — Accomack, Dinwiddie, Greensville, Northampton, Prince George, Surry and Sussex — and the cities of Chesapeake, Emporia, Franklin, Norfolk, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach.