IFAS seeking best path to weather $4 million cut

In this June 15, 2012 file photo, a student looks over examples of good versus bad bugs at Sugar Tree Farms in Ocala. Jonael Bosques, a Small Farms Agent, taught the "Know the Bugs on your Farmscape" class as part of the UF/IFAS Marion County Extension Service. IFAS is looking at $4 million in cuts because of federal budget sequestration.

Jacqui Janetzko/Star-Banner
Published: Monday, May 13, 2013 at 6:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 13, 2013 at 6:12 p.m.

Correction: The Florida Legislature’s budget provides a $1,400 raise to state employees earning $40,000 a year or less and a $1,000 raise for employees whose salaries exceed $40,000 a year. About 35 percent of the state’s 160,000 workers also would be eligible for a $600 merit pay bonus. An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the raises state workers stand to receive.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is facing a $4 million cut in federal funding because of sequestration, sending university administrators scrambling for other sources of income to avoid budget cuts that could affect salaries and programs.

“We are trying to figure out what balancing act we can do to have the least impact on people,” said Joe Joyce, executive associate vice president for IFAS. “We know it is going to affect our ability to deliver programs either way. Our first priority is always to protect our people.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been forced to cut its 2013-14 budget by 7.6 percent, resulting in a $4 million cut to IFAS, Joyce said. The university has until Oct. 1, the beginning of the federal budget cycle, he said, to come up with a plan.

“There are no replacement funds as far as I can tell,” UF President Bernie Machen told the Faculty Senate on Thursday.

The amount represents a 3 percent drop in expenditures for IFAS next year, Joyce said. He said it was a small but significant cut.

“We are not totally dependent on USDA funds, but it will have an impact.”

It was still too early to tell exactly where money could be shifted, and which programs could be delayed, he said, but it definitely will impact IFAS' ability to deliver extension programs that receive federal money.

There also is a question about whether IFAS employees will get the same raise the Legislature approved for other state workers.

IFAS employs hundreds of faculty and staff in its 67 cooperative extension offices and 17 research and education centers across the state. They work on split appointments, which means part of their pay comes from the university (a combination of state and federal money), and the rest from the county where the employees are stationed.

“These people are in direct contact with the public,” said Mary Keith, a nutritionist with the Hillsborough County IFAS extension office and faculty senate member.

Keith teaches workplace wellness, nutrition, diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol management, as well as food safety and home canning classes. Other people in her office teach family financial management, tax preparation, budgeting and child-care provider training.

Those classes are available to any of the 1.3 million people in Hillsborough County.

The university pays 60 percent of her salary, while Hillsborough County pays 40 percent.

“Some part of that 60 percent of my salary that comes from the university is in that USDA stream,” Keith said. No IFAS employees have been told of any impending pay cuts, she said.

They are concerned whether they will get a raise, she added.

Machen told the Faculty Senate that he was aware of the situation IFAS was in and that administrators were looking for solutions.

Keith said she was grateful Machen addressed the issue.

“He's aware, and other department heads are involved in looking at additional sources of funding,” Keith said. “It is reassuring at least, but we are still up in the air on it.”

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