Search is on to protect Extension, 4-HGoodhue County's 4-H organization is one of the largest and most active in the state. A group of volunteers wants to ensure that remains the case.
By: Jen Cullen, The Republican Eagle
Goodhue County's 4-H organization is one of the largest and most active in the state.
A group of volunteers wants to ensure that remains the case, even as local officials consider cutting funding to non-mandated entities like University of Minnesota Extension, which operates the county's 4-H program.
"We know that times are tough and we're going to try to forge a solution very proactively to make sure that people continue benefiting from the program," said Jayne Hager Dee, U of M Extension regional director.
Since 2006, Goodhue County tax dollars have funded the local Extension office, which also coordinates educational opportunities like the master gardener program, between $137,000 and $155,000 annually.
Goodhue County's Extension Advisory Committee has begun brainstorming ways to pull in "supplemental funding to go hand in glove with that county funding," Hager Dee said.
County Administrator Scott Arneson has told commissioners several times they will need to cut funding to non-mandated programs - like Extension, fairs and historical societies - to help balance the county's 2011 budget in light of state aid cuts and levy caps.
Commissioners have already trimmed programs and instituted a soft hiring freeze but still need to close a $2.1 million gap.
They have yet to make any decisions about non-mandated programs like Extension, but Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel said his goal is to not let the valued program fall by the wayside.
Rechtzigel said Extension does raise money on its own through fundraisers and other methods but he said it is unrealistic for the county and Extension to go at it alone during tough budget times.
"Obviously our goal is to maintain a very strong 4-H program in Goodhue County and we want to be proactive and take steps now so that can continue," Rechtzigel said. "My goal is that Goodhue County will remain a committed partner but we may not be able to be the only sponsor."
Hager Dee agrees.
She said Extension reaches across the county and provides educational opportunities community members value.
"It's rich, it's embedded in the community, it brings a wonderful quality of life to families and youth in Goodhue County and we want it to continue," she said. "It's a real asset in the community and the community would feel it if it weren't there."
Washington County officials learned just how valuable their Extension office was since announcing last year they would cut the county's $130,000 contribution to the University of Minnesota Extension for two full-time 4-H coordinators.
The county has since said it would fund $30,000 but the controversy surrounding the initial funding cut has prompted lawmakers to craft a bill making its way through the Legislature would give county 4-H programs more flexibility in seeking funding.
"We don't want to end up like Washington County," Rechtzigel said. "We don't want to become complacent and we'll just brace ourselves and maybe the worst will go by. The worst is not gonna go by, it's only going to get harder."
Hager Dee said the Extension Advisory Committee will meet several more times before unveiling any plans to secure funding. She said the process could take a while and may not be ready for the 2011 budget but she's confident the community will play a role.
"I think there are opportunities out there," she said. "The economy is horrible but there are still opportunities out there."
Rechtzigel said the committee will explore all options, including partnering with non-profits and fundraisers.
"We want this program to be strong for generations because it's a good one we've all been through," Rechtzigel said of the 4-H program. "It just doesn't seem fair I was given a chance to go through that and other kids may not."