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Monday, March 9th, 2009

Mercer County OSU Extension director loses job

State budget shortfall causes termination

By Shelley Grieshop
Todd Mangen, director of the Ohio State University Extension office in Mercer County, will be out of a job in May as a direct result of funding shortfalls at the state level.
Mangen, who also is a field educator in charge of numerous agriculture and environmental programs, has served the county for about five years. He was one of 22 OSU extension agents terminated last week as part of an overall restructuring project the agency is undergoing to combat budget cuts.   
In a letter released today, state Director Keith Smith said the state regrets the action but has no other choice.
"Despite a proven track record of serving Ohioans effective for 95 years, OSU Extension must reduce its workforce and expenses to align with declining state and local revenues," he wrote. "Given the incredibly difficult economy, we, too, are called to sacrifice."
The plan is to reduce the number of agents across the state. The end result could be counties throughout Ohio grouped together in 10s, with approximately eight agents serving each group, officials have said.
Mangen told The Daily Standard this morning that he was deeply disappointed and angry that state officials appear to have no rhyme or reason for the cuts they are making.
"I don't understand why they couldn't first try to cut our hours or close for a week or so like other businesses are doing," he said.
Mangen's last day is in mid-May. Nine weeks does not allow him enough time to complete and deliver programs he is currently working on including one on tree planting and maintenance, he said.
Suzanne Steel, the state agency's communications and technology director, refused to release the names of staff members who were released. She also would not say which counties were affected, stating it was OSU policy not to divulge such information.
Mercer County Commissioner John Bruns echoed Mangen's disappointment. The loss of the OSU Extension director in a county that consistently posts the highest agriculture receipts in the state doesn't seem appropriate, he said.
Bruns said this weekend he questioned Donald Breece, the state assistant director of agriculture and natural resources, concerning the issue.
"He said they cut staff statewide and Todd was probably released because he didn't have tenure," Bruns explained. "I told him we were disappointed they did this to Mercer County, but I see their point, why they have to break us up in regions. Times are changing."
According to a model on the agencies' Web site, Mercer and Auglaize counties likely will be grouped together with Darke, Miami, Shelby, Hardin, Logan, Champaign, Clark and Union counties.
Bruns said the county will have to work with whomever is assigned to us in the future.
"Todd always did a good job with the farmers. We'll miss him," he added.
The state's reorganization policy is a strategic plan that was completed in 2008 but will be implemented this year with fewer people than originally intended, the plan states.
County, campus and state budgets all have been reduced through the plan and further reductions are expected, Steel said.
"We're still working with the legislature not to cut us as much as they intend," Steel told the newspaper this morning. "But if it (the governor's budget) stays the same, there likely will be more cuts."
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