When Rock County’s UW Extension office switched from local to regional management in 2018, some wondered whether counties would get less help with agricultural research, youth development and other services.
A year later, Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said it’s been a welcome change.
“Despite this transition, the county has continued to invest in and recognize the importance of Extension in Rock County,” Smith said.
UW Extension now operates under a regional model, which combines the offices of multiple counties under one umbrella. Rock, Walworth and Jefferson counties are under Regional Director Chrissy Wen, but each county has its own staff.
Staff members in the three counties are considered UW-Madison employees. They report to Wen and work within their individual counties to provide services.
Rock County currently offers full-time educators in agriculture, positive youth development, and health and well-being, as well as a 4-H program coordinator. The educators can offer resources to any individual, group or organization in the county.
Rock County will pay $172,685 for Extension this year, a flat rate of $41,500 per position. All Rock County educator jobs are filled with the exception of the health and well-being coordinator.
The agriculture educator works with farmers on research. The positive youth development educator supports area schools, Boys & Girls Club branches and other youth organizations. The 4-H program coordinator helps manage Rock County’s 4-H program, which is the biggest in the state.
A part-time horticulture educator and county support staff are also part of the program. Other Extension employees work in nutrition through a federal grant, Smith said.
Wen said the regional model has worked, in part, because it still emphasizes local service.
“We still have educators located in the counties, and some things have gone regional, but we are still really focused on serving those communities within our counties. Not everyone has a larger geography to cover,” she said.
Smith said county and Extension officials realize that Rock County is heavily agricultural, so they want to continue offering the best possible service.
“Rock County is a big agricultural area, so having that research to bring to farmers and the county farm is important,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of respect for the work they (UW Extension) do, and they provide a lot of support for the county with that work.”
After a slight adjustment period, county officials are happy with the new arrangement, he said.
“It’s been a change in the organizational dynamic to coordinate with a regional director rather than having someone in the office, but I don’t feel like we’ve had any problems with Extension leadership or Chrissy,” Smith said. “It’s gone as smoothly as expected, and they’ve been great.”