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Deep Cuts Proposed for University Service Agencies

Jackie Yamanaka

Agricultural producers and fire chiefs say they will be among those harmed by the deep cuts proposed for the service agencies that are tied to the Montana university system.

5 service agencies are tied to higher education, but they are separate budgets from the campuses. 

  • Fire Service Training School
  • Extension Service
  • Forest & Conservation Experiment Station
  • Ag Experiment Stations
  • Bureau of Mines and Geology

For agricultural producers, Extension or Experiment station employees are the conduit between them and the research taking place on the campuses.

“In many cases, producers like myself can take a smartphone or an iPad, take it out to the field and take a picture of a disease that you have in a plant or an insect send those into the Schutter Lab and within a very short period of time the personnel there at the lab can have a diagnosis as to what we’re looking at,” says Dave Kelsey, who farms and ranches near Molt, a community northwest of Billings.

Kelsey says the agents can also help producers address those pests.

Volunteer Fire Department Chiefs say they depend heavily on the services and expertise from the Fire Service Training School (FSTS).

Manchester Volunteer Fire Department Chief Leonard Lundby says lawmakers in 2007 put into law that fire chiefs are responsible for developing and maintaining their department’s training program.

“That’s a tall order,” Lundby says. “And I can’t do that by myself. I’m not qualified to do that by myself.”

He says he relies on the FSTS for help.

“We’re not asking you to mandate something like that and then pull the rug out from underneath our feet. We have to have that to meet our statutory obligation,” says Lundby.

Administrators for both service agencies and their supporters say while they understand Montana is facing a tough budget situation, they ask why are they facing a greater budget cut at 16% when their operations are already small. They say to meet that they will have to lay off staff and reduce services.

“What I’ve heard from you is that it’s very important for us to invest in ourselves whether that’s training or research,” says Representative Brad Hamlett, D-Cascade.

The Democrat says the Governor’s budget office is responsible for the deep cut. A representative of the governor’s budget office agrees the governor made cuts, but adds the legislature made additional cuts.

Ultimately it will be up to lawmakers to put finishing touches on these budgets.

“We have to be surgical about how we do things here. Some programs need to be enhanced not cut, not kept the same,” says Hamlett.

Republicans are in the majority at the 2017 Montana Legislature. That’s why Hamlett, a Democrat, urges backers of the 5 service agencies to contact the governor’s office, legislators, and write letters to the editor or editorials as work on the final budget still has weeks of work ahead.