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Tax district benefits east Oregon farmers

Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Farmers and ranchers in eastern Oregon have benefited from a special taxing district that helps fund Oregon State University's Malheur County experiment station and extension office. Voters approved the district two years ago.

ONTARIO, Ore. — A special taxing district that raises $365,000 a year for Oregon State University’s experiment station and extension office here has benefited local farmers and ranchers, supporters say.

Due to budget challenges, the experiment station was slated for possible closure and the extension office for major cuts. But a ballot measure approved by county voters two years ago that created the taxing district has resuscitated both.

Because of reduced funding for research and equipment, the experiment station had hit a roadblock before the measure was passed, said director Clint Shock.

“The (taxing) district has taken what was an unsolvable financial situation and made it manageable,” he said. “We were on the brink of not being able to continue and it pulled us back into being solvent.”

Before the money from the taxing district became available, the experiment station was having a hard time finding parts for its old equipment, Shock said. The new funding has allowed it to start making payments on basic equipment.

“It made a huge difference,” he said. “Without basic equipment, you just can’t run an experiment station. We were getting to the end of the row.”

Money from the taxing district is split between the experiment station and extension office.

Because of departures and retirements, employment at the extension office had dropped from six to two. Due to the tenuous financial situation, refilling those positions wasn’t a priority for OSU officials, Shock said.

Money from the taxing district has funded a new cropping systems agent and half of the office’s 4-H position.

OSU officials signed a memorandum of agreement with local ag leaders stating that if they came up with local money to support the station and office, the university would stand behind the rest of the program.

The university has kept its word and made it a priority to get the other positions filled, Shock said. As a result, the extension office is now back up to six employees.

The taxing district “was really a means to keep the experiment station open and supplement some of the funding cuts the extension service had sustained as well,” said Stuart Reitz, the county leader for extension.

Nyssa farmer Reid Saito, who was a member of a coalition of farm leaders that pushed the ballot measure and educated voters about it, said the funding has been extremely valuable to local agriculture.

“As a grower, I think it’s critical we have that research station here,” he said. “If we had lost that or they had to cut down on a lot of personnel and research, it really would have hurt our local agricultural industry.”

Shock said the money also enabled researchers to be in a position to provide scientific evidence that helped convince Food and Drug Administration officials to revisit the agency’s proposed new water quality standards for produce.

“We wouldn’t have been able to start that work if we hadn’t been saved by the service district,” he said.


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