Upshur board hears budget request

One local agency is actually requesting less money for the upcoming fiscal year, despite telling Upshur County commissioners how much its program is growing.

The West Virginia University Extension Office is asking for about $12,000 less this year than it had in its budget for last year. Extension Agent Gary Rapking said the decrease resulted from the retirement of a longtime employee who will be replaced with a person at a lower salary.

Rapking said the WVU Extension service will celebrate its 100th birthday in the county this fall, and activities are being planned for that time and during the annual summer 4-H camp.

“We give education and services at a grassroots level, particularly for our youth,” he said. “We still put a good deal of our emphasis on agriculture.”

Rapking said when he first arrived in Upshur County, the youth livestock show typically only had a handful of projects from 4-H and Future Farmers of America members, “mainly because we didn’t have a place to show.” With the upgraded facilities near the high school, that event has grown to feature about 100 projects annually.

“The kids learn a great deal of responsibility caring for these animals,” he said, “and it’s created over $70,000 in our youths’ pockets.”

A boost to the local economy is also coming from area farmers, who try to buy their supplies and then sell their products on a local level.

“It’s a difficult way to make a living,” Rapking said. “For our topography, it’s amazing what our farmers do. The locally grown products are starting to take root (because) we now have an ideal location for the farmers market.”

Extension Agent Craig Presar said the 4-H program has grown to more than 250 members scattered across the county’s 14 clubs. He said that a lot of nontraditional programs, such as engineering and robotics, are starting to filter their way into club events.

“I get paid to work with kids and play with toys and build robots,” Presar said. “We work with a lot of nontraditional education outside of the school setting in a fun way.”

County Commissioner JC Raffety said the WVU Extension Service has served both those who live in a farming culture and those who don’t.

“We live in a rural environment, and the services the Extension Office provides have served us well,” he said. “Technology and robotics are a long way from the agriculture mechanical schools.”

Presar oversees the county’s Continuing Educational Opportunities System clubs. He praised the work of their members, saying they logged more than 26,000 hours of volunteer community service.

The Extension Office also celebrated a move into a new facility the staff believes better fits its needs and better serves the community.

“There’s not a county that has anything better than us,” Rapking said.