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Cooperative extension, 4H in Nye County continue to move forward amid COVID-19

Officials with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension provided the Nye County Commission with a quarterly report regarding its operations and its budget for the next 12 months, which includes county-provided funding, during the commission’s July 21 meeting.

Holly Gatzke, a northern area director, extension educator and county education for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, started out her presentation by focusing on the financial figures. She explained that the proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-2021, which began July 1 and continues until June 30 of next year, includes the amount of revenue the extension is expected to see in the form of tax dollars allocated by the county, as projected by Nye County Comptroller Savannah Rucker, which totals $287,268. That funding comes from local property taxes at a rate of 2 cents per $100 of property valuation, funding that was reinstated just last year following the county’s financial recovery from the recession that began in 2008.

In addition, the extension has nearly $155,000 in county-provided funding that was not spent last fiscal year and has carried over to the current fiscal year. Gatzke said the extension is planning to spend $47,598 of the organization’s previous year ending fund balance, which would leave the organization about $107,000 to roll over once more at the start of fiscal year 2021-2022.

“The budget itself is a budget of $344,866. That would include activities in Tonopah and Pahrump, salaries, benefits, services and supplies and 4-H activities,” Gatzke said of the extension’s projected expenses over the next year.

At the moment, Gatzke said the extension is focusing on building up its staffing which in turn will allow it to build its programming and that is why the extension is projected to spend $47,000 more than it receives in county tax dollars over the next year.

When commissioners questioned the large amount of funding that is regularly left in the extension’s coffers at the end of each fiscal year, Gatzke said that was a normal practice that helps guard the organization from a severe pinch in funding in case its revenue from county tax dollars comes in lower than anticipated. If the revenue decreases, the extension can dip into its reserve funding in order to ensure staff does not have to be let go and programs can continue.

“We usually find that our programming becomes even more critical during those difficult years of downtime,” Gatzke explained.

Gatzke detailed that the bulk of the extension’s budget goes to cover salaries and benefits for key staffing members, including Master Gardener Coordinator Heather Freeman, administrative assistant for Pahrump Cheryl McCormick, Pahrump 4-H Coordinator Stormy Ingersoll and Pahrump 4-H Assistant Coordinator Jamie Domina, as well as 4-H Assistant Coordinator Carol Shilling, who is located in Round Mountain. Gatzke said she is currently in the process of hiring a new administrative assistant for the Tonopah area, with interviews scheduled for the following week.

“I am very excited about what they (extension staff) have been able to achieve and where they are going. Despite the impact of the world right now, they have been providing telephone desk help to call-ins, the Master Gardener program did shut down but they’ve come back up and the Pahrump Farmers Market is back active,” Gatzke told commissioners.

Gatzke said the Farmers Market is operating a bit differently right now due to the restrictions on the number of people allowed to congregate for a public gathering, with the number of vendors limited so that there is a balance between those selling goods and the number of members of the public in attendance. Despite this, the Farmers Market is seeing steady traffic and its reopening has been well-received. “They reopened on Saturday, June 6 and they have already had 160 visitors since that time coming and they have been focusing on essentials such as produce, eggs, honey, cottage foods, soaps and hand-sewn masks,” she said.

The demonstration garden closed its gates early this year because of COVID-19 but the extension is considering reopening that as well, Gatzke said, noting that in the meantime, Freeman has collected over 45 pounds of produce which has been donated to the NyE Communities Coalition and other local food banks.

“I do want to say that the 4-H clubs, Stormy and Jamie have still been going at it really hard,” Gatzke continued. “They have 13 clubs, 25 leaders. It’s kind of exciting that we’ve got leaders coming forward in Amargosa and Beatty, so we are expanding.” The inclusion of Amargosa and Beatty in the 4-H programming was one of the goals that the commission had emphasized when authorizing the reinstatement of the county’s tax rate allocation to the extension in May, 2019 and Gatzke was obviously pleased to be able to report that the effort to expand into those communities was seeing success.

The extension’s 4-H activities are ample and diverse, encompassing all sorts of hobbies and skills for children 5 to 19 years old.

The Pahrump Community Club had been meeting in person until March, when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the issuance of emergency directives that forced the extension to shift gears and switch to online meetings, according to the written report submitted to the commission for its July 21 meeting. Under the Pahrump Community Club are projects such as: the Cloverbuds, a group for 5- to 8-year-olds focusing on STEM; the reptile club; Minecraft, which centers on computer coding and animation; creative writing; and livestock. The Pahrump Community Club has also donated both time and materials in the ongoing effort to craft homemade masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

There is also a Shooting Sports club; the Dog Den, which focuses on training canines in obedience, agility and showmanship; the Garden Club; the Awkward Silence competitive robotics team; and the Homeschool Co-op, which is not operating at this time but is planned to restart in the fall.

In the past, the Homeschool Co-op, which is open to all youth regardless of whether they are part of 4-H, has taught all kinds of useful skills, including animal husbandry, sewing, flower arranging, woodworking and biology, as well as photography, career readiness and science. Its members have also participated in activities such as food and toiletry bags for the needy and homeless and the Art in the Time of Quarantine contest.

In the northern parts of Nye County, the 4-H activities are not yet as robust but as Gatzke noted that morning, those heading 4-H are pushing to grow the programs and clubs in that area too but of course, the pandemic has had an effect on that mission. As of January, Tonopah 4-H included Cloverbuds, a science exploration club, a Lego club and a visual arts club. Post COVID-19, the Tonopah 4-H continues to have a photography club with photos posted on Facebook for the community’s enjoyment and a 4-H poster contest, which is ongoing. Gatzke said Shilling is planning a two-hour horse program beginning at the end of the month, which will allow a small group of participants to gather outside and interact with horses.

“The kids have been engaged and active and that’s what we want,” Gatzke stated, later adding, “We are evolving, we have a plan for phase two to keep programming going and actually figure out how to keep building it in a positive way so that if it (the state’s reopening plan) stays in phase two, we’ll keep operating, no question.”

Those wishing to access any of the programs or information available from the extension are asked to call 775-727-5532. Gatzke said staff is regularly responding to phone messages and appointments are available for on-site assistance, which allows the extension to keep up on its cleaning protocols and adhere to the restrictions on the number of persons allowed inside the extension’s offices at one time.

For more information on the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension visit www.extension.unr.edu

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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