ONTARIO, Ore.-Malheur County growers expressed relief over the passage of a ballot measure May 15 that will help ensure the future of Oregon State University's research station and extension office near Ontario.
A measure that will raise $365,000 for OSU's experiment station and extension and 4-H services passed by a 56 percent margin, 3,392 votes to 2,678.
Measure 23-49 will create a special taxing district that will increase the local property tax rate by 23 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. OSU officials have told county leaders that without local funding support, services at the station could be further reduced or eliminated.
"I'm thrilled and relieved that it did pass...because the experiment and extension station are instrumental to agriculture in Malheur County," said grower Reid Saito, a member of the Malheur Ag and Extension Coalition, which pushed the measure and educated voters about it.
There is tremendous crop diversity in the county, "but we need research in order to continue that," he added. "I consider the passage of this measure and the funding it provides as an investment in the future of agriculture and the economic stability of the county."
MAEC Chairman Bob Komoto, manager of Ontario Produce, said the OSU experiment and extension stations play a critical role for the county's agricultural base and passing the measure was vitally important to area growers.
"Those two institutions do such a great job for local growers and the entire county, really, and it's gratifying that Malheur County voters saw it that way, too," he said. "With this local support, I think OSU can look at Malheur County as being a strong base for extension and research stations."
Experiment station director Clinton Shock said university officials and MAEC members signed a memorandum of agreement stating that "if the group came up with local money to support the station, the university will stand behind the rest of the program."
Komoto said that not only does the measure ensure the future of the station, but the additional funding will help OSU officials begin to restore some of the research and staffing positions that have been eliminated due to budget reductions.
The experiment station has been without an extension agent for row crops for almost two years and an agent for forage and small grain crops for almost a year. Both those positions can now be filled, he said.
Because the money created by the taxing district will be administered by a local committee, it will enable locals to help mold the station's research and extension services, Saito said.
Several positions at the station that served the cattle and forage crop industries have been cut over the years and never replaced and coalition members would like to restore some, he said.
With the additional money, "One of our top priorities will be to get better services for the forage industry and the cattle people because that's an important part of our agricultural economy," Saito said.
SOURCE: Sean Ellis, Capital Press