4-H funding: Some compromises soughtCutting all county funding for 4-H as proposed would stop members from being in fairs and other events beyond local clubs.
By: Scott Wente, South Washington County Bulletin
Cutting all county funding for 4-H as proposed would stop members from being in fairs and other events beyond local clubs.
But the county could cut some funding and still maintain an active program, said 4-H Regional Director Pat Morreim.
County commissioners are considering cutting $131,000 in funding for two full-time 4-H coordinator positions when the county’s contract with the University of Minnesota’s Extension Services is up in July, due to a projected 2009 budget shortfall.
Washington County is the only county in the state considering dropping 4-H funding entirely, Morreim said.
The 4-H program lets youth participate in hands-on learning activities supported by research from the University of Minnesota.
Morreim said the program does require at least some county-funded staff to maintain consistent quality throughout the state, but there are other counties that fund only one full-time position.
No discussion yet
County and state 4-H officials haven’t had any discussions thus far about a compromise, and none were scheduled as of March 6, Morreim said, but it’s something state 4-H officials “will certainly pursue.”
The 4-H program, along with other extension services, gets funding from the state and federal government, and the law requires local funding to get federal matching funds, said Dan Kugler, interim deputy administrator for Families, 4-H and nutrition at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Washington County isn’t the only county throughout the country that has struggled with whether to fund 4-H due to the slow economy, and Kugler said he expects more counties will face the same decision.
“A lot of times 4-H will be the first, if not the only extension function that may be maintained at the county level when there’s a real fiscal crisis,” he said.
Kugler said he heard of one recent instance where 4-Hers who wanted to save the program made an agreement with the county that they would fundraise to cover the county’s contribution toward the program.
Chelsea Dietsche, a 10-year 4-Her who is now a sophomore at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, said the clubs already do a lot of fundraising, and participants pay membership fees, event participation fees and project fees. Dietsche, who said she gained valuable skills and opportunities through 4-H, is advocating for maintaining county 4-H funding on Facebook and elsewhere.
“These two positions that we have right now, they’re really important,” Dietsche said. “They’re really necessary to our program, so it would be hard to cut any further.”
County fair? No
If the county decides to cut funding entirely, effective July 1, Washington County 4-Hers won’t be able to participate in the 2009 Washington County Fair, because there won’t be anyone to organize it, Regional Director Pat Morreim said.
“With multitudes of activities and events that go on, and between 500 and 600 kids that participate, that’s a huge endeavor, so it has to have staff in order to happen,” Morriem said.
State, not county, funding covers the Minnesota State Fair, but if 4-Hers don’t participate in a county fair, they can’t be in the state fair, she said.
Instead, state 4-H officials would make sure Washington County participants have some way to finish their program year, which runs through October, perhaps with an “achievement day” where participants could bring their work for judging, she said.
County Commissioner Myra Peterson said she thinks the county might be able to reach some agreement so that this year’s 4-H participants can be in the county fair, but doesn’t foresee the program getting any funding after that.
Commissioner Lisa Weik, who represents Woodbury, said she wants to see the county fund the program through at least the end of the year so that 4-Hers can participate in fairs and have a little more time to reorganize and seek other funding.
She also said the board ought to consider the financial impact of the program on local business owners before deciding to cut its funding long-term.
“The annual county fair is our own local stimulus package,” Weik said. “Crippling 4-H and the related county fair could have very negative, detrimental effects. I think we need to be careful and we need to proceed with caution.”
Weik said last Thursday she hadn’t heard from any business owners concerned about losing 4-H.
Peterson said the county board is likely to vote on whether the 4-H funding will be cut in mid- to late-March.