Supporters go proactive to save Extension, 4-HGoodhue County commissioners all want the 4-H program and other University of Minnesota Extension activities to be there for county residents, Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel of Kenyon says.
By: Ruth Nerhaugen, The Republican Eagle
Goodhue County commissioners all want the 4-H program and other University of Minnesota Extension activities to be there for county residents, Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel of Kenyon says.
But tough choices are looming for the Goodhue County Board, which faces a $2 million deficit for 2011.
Funding for programs like 4-H, which are not mandated by law, is in jeopardy.
That's why Extension Committee members including Rechtzigel have gone proactive.
"We're looking to save Goodhue County Extension," he said.
In addition to 4-H, Extension also has Home Study groups, Master Gardener volunteers and the Nutrition Education Program.
A meeting is planned Tuesday night in Zumbrota to bring together key people, including leaders such as Rechtzigel and dedicated supporters from 4-H - volunteers, parents and alumni. Home Study Group members also are getting involved.
"We need everybody to pitch in," Rechtzigel said.
They're giving themselves two months to come up with a plan they can bring to the County Board when it meets in early July at the Cannon Valley Fair in Cannon Falls.
The core group is expected to establish committees to take on specific tasks, Rechtzigel said, such as getting youths involved, seeking out alumni and looking for corporate sponsors.
They probably won't leap into fundraising, he said, but may seek pledges, and will try to determine a reasonable amount they could raise. That's the information they plan to take to the County Board.
"The board will get an idea what the task force can come up with," he said. "If the board says that's not enough, you need to do more, we can go back and double our efforts."
The task force began ramping up about a month ago, Rechtzigel said, after hearing reports about what could happen in 2011.
"We knew it was not going to be good," he said.
County Administrator Scott Arneson told them, "It's bleak, not just in Goodhue County but in counties all over the state."
Rechtzigel felt it was important for the Extension Committee to be proactive about the situation, so they can begin bringing more partners into the equation.
The county provides about $145,000 annually to Extension; it covers staff and offices. The 4-H Program raises over $100,000 more for programs and activities.
"The board will be facing some pretty tough decisions for 2011," Rechtzigel said.
With a $2 million funding gap, cuts appear inevitable. The board has been in a spending reduction mode for several years and now waits for the 2010 Legislature to adjourn.
"We can't back away from the numbers" until the session is over, he said. That's when officials will know what steps they can take - and must take.
At their April 20 board meeting, commissioners heard a staff presentation on the value of 4-H and the other programs. With 700 youths and about 250 screened volunteers participating, Goodhue County has the third largest 4-H program in Minnesota.
There are lots of good programs for youths, Commissioner Ron Allen pointed out, but the board does not support Scouting or Civil Air Patrol.
Despite the questions, Rechtzigel believes all of the commissioners are supportive of 4-H. It's just that the board is facing tough choices.
"Few of them are positive," he said. County officials have warned that it will be necessary to cut non-mandated programs including Extension, fairs and the historical societies to balance the budget.
"This is not the funnest time to be a commissioner," Rechtzigel said, because inevitable some programs will be hurt. "It's a matter of the reality of the situation."