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County could help 4-H again in 2011

Washington County commissioners appear poised to help fund the county's 4-H program next year, but taxpayer support is less certain beyond 2011.

County Board members said they support giving the 4-H program $30,000 next year. The funds would help the group reach its target budget of $110,000, which will pay for a full-time coordinator, part-time help and other expenses.

"We want the 4-H youth program to survive and thrive in Washington County," Commissioner Lisa Weik of Woodbury said last week after the County Board received the $30,000 request.

Funding for Washington County 4-H has been a challenge for the past two years. In 2009, amid budget challenges, the County Board voted to stop funding 4-H and encouraged the group to look for other revenue sources.

The organization raised money privately and then, in late 2009, county board members eased off their earlier position and decided to give the group $30,000 to operate this year, as it looked for a new financial model.

The group is seeking another $30,000 in taxpayer funds in 2011. Organizers say they are getting close to covering all of their expenses through private donations and member dues. More than 500 youths belong to Washington County 4-H clubs. Membership has increased this year, despite the financial challenges.

Still, the down economy has made it difficult to find willing donors, said Pat Morriem, the county's Extension Service director.

"That really does make a huge difference," she said of county support.

Commissioner Gary Kriesel, whose district includes Afton, said 4-H supporters have done a lot of work to solicit private financial contributions to keep the program afloat. Kriesel had proposed the $30,000 grant to 4-H for 2010.

"I certainly am going to stand in support of that gap funding" in 2011, Kriesel said. "You have to support that hard work."

Kriesel added, though, that he was frustrated by signs posted at last month's Washington County Fair that suggested 4-H had lost all county financial support. "We're still in the game," he said.

County Board Chairman Bill Pulkrabek said that should not be the case after next year. Pulkrabek, whose district includes northeast Woodbury, said there only should be one more year of county assistance.

"I plan to support it with the caveat that 2011 will be the last year we provide this type of 'bridge funding,'" he said.

It should not be overlooked that the county already contributes roughly $24,000 of in-kind donations to 4-H, said Commissioner Myra Peterson of Cottage Grove. The group has office space at the government center in Stillwater and it receives computers and other supplies from the county.

Peterson said she wants the organization to find ways to sustain itself. However, she added, the county probably will continue providing workspace and other donated resources well beyond next year.

Peterson said she will vote in December to support the $30,000 request as long as the county has the resources available.

"I don't want to kill the organization, and if we didn't come up with the bridge money we'd probably kill it," Peterson said.