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Extension agent’s salary approved

In response to what has received far more public outcry than pauper burials and commissioner benefits, Washington County agreed to fully fund the salary and benefits of Extension Agent John Hamrick during the March 28 Commission meeting.
“We have not had a single issue raised that has generated more public opinion,” said Mayor Dan Eldridge. “It has been an outpouring of support.”
The University of Tennessee Extension operates in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties as the off-campus division of the UT Institute of Agriculture. An educational outreach organization funded by federal, state and local governments, UT Extension, in cooperation with Tennessee State University, brings research-based information about agriculture, family and consumer sciences, youth and community development to the people of Tennessee.
Budget reductions of $5.4 million since 2008 have required the UT Extension to implement a new staffing plan that eliminates 60 positions across the state. While many of the positions were absorbed through retirements and attrition, 19 individuals were asked to transfer to vacant openings to redistribute a smaller workforce and refill critical positions.
Hamrick has served as an extension agent in Washington County for almost five years, during which time the county has covered one half of his salary and benefits. Connie Sharp, extension agent and co-director of the Washington County Extension, approached the Budget Committee in February with a request for the county to begin fully funding the position in fiscal year 2012-2013.
Despite being unable to predict the county’s resources in two years, the state required a commitment in advance for the UT Extension to continue paying half of Hamrick’s salary and benefits during fiscal 2011-2012. Without a commitment in place, his employment would end June 30.
According to Eldridge, the two main reasons people gave when expressing their support to keep Hamrick were his work with dairy farmers and his work with 4-H Clubs.
“I grew up in 4-H so I absolutely recognize the value,” Eldridge said.
Eldridge said the county was given a deadline of May 1 for a final answer, but Hamrick had to apply for a transfer by April 15 if his position was being eliminated.
“I am very happy because I really didn’t want to leave the area,” Hamrick said, expressing appreciation for the Commission’s decision. “I am also thankful for the support from the community.”
Washington County will now execute a Memorandum of Agreement with the UT Extension, which commits the county to covering Hamrick’s full salary beginning July 1, 2012. Total allocated funds for salary and benefits beginning in fiscal year 2012-2013 and going forward will equal $60,369. According to the agreement, “any future across-the-board salary increases, promotion(s) and/or merit increases or bonus pay would rest upon county appropriations.”