Charles Phillips has retired as Columbia County's extension agent and coordinator, but he isn't leaving.
Though Phillips' retirement officially began Oct. 1, he will return part time to the position in January.
The University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences offered Phillips the early retirement to compensate for state budget cuts, he said. Throughout the state, Phillips said, the university needed 20 employees to retire.
"The university offered an early out," he said. "I looked at it and decided to take it."
While Phillips is away from his post, he said, master gardeners, who are trained volunteers, will be in the office to answer any agricultural and horticultural questions, such as those about lawns, gardens, shrubs and trees.
For any questions that can't be answered, some calls might be referred to extension offices in other counties, Phillips said.
"The main question I'm getting is, 'Are you still going to do the newspaper article (in The Columbia County News-Times )?' or 'Are you going to still do the radio program on the Lawn and Garden Show? ' " he said.
The answer to both questions is yes, Phillips said.
Phillips said he will honor all speaking engagements previously scheduled through December. Also, the gardening at lunch series will continue as normal.
"Even though I'm gone, we're still going to do a bunch of it," he said.
The 4-H program and services for soil, water and plant disease samples, won't be affected, he said.
Phillips said a full-time agent won't be hired until the state budget situation improves, which might take at least a year.
"They feel this position is important enough that they need somebody to continue on until they can get somebody in here full-time," he said.
Phillips' work within the extension services focuses on agriculture and natural resources, which includes forestry and horticulture.
When he started working for the county's extension services in 1987, he said there were six agents. Since his retirement only one agent, Shirley Williamson, remains in the office.
"It still hasn't sunk in yet," said Phillips, who had planned to retire in about five years. "I'm trying to get everything finalized and loose ends tied up as much as possible."
During his time off, Phillips said, he looks forward to spending more time with his daughter, an eighth-grader at Greenbrier Middle School, and his parents, who live outside the area.
He also said he plans to spend time hunting, fishing and possibly doing consulting work within the horticulture industry.
Though he could have turned down the option for an early retirement and avoid working on a part-time basis, Phillips said he still loves his job and will remain in Columbia County.
"The folks at Columbia County have been great," he said. "It's been a great organization to work for."
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