BOC eliminates Extension funding

July 29, 2016

It was standing room only at Thursday morning’s Board of Commissioners Budget Meeting. MSU Extension and 4-H supporters came to plead that the board rescind their vote to cut funding, a move that will eliminate the 99 year old County program. Photo by Sherry Landon

It was standing room only at Thursday morning’s Board of Commissioners Budget Meeting. MSU Extension and 4-H supporters came to plead that the board rescind their vote to cut funding, a move that will eliminate the 99 year old County program.
Photo by Sherry Landon

By Pat Maurer

More than 300 young people and over 70 volunteers that help them will no longer be able to participate in the MSU Extension 4-H program in Clare County if the county funding is cut.

That is only one of the programs at risk at the Extension office.
In a budget hearing Tuesday, County Commissioners voted to eliminate the Extension programs, which serve not only youth but provide education for nutritional programs, agriculture, canning classes and food preservation, home buyer education and financial management education and foreclosure prevention education.
This is the 99th year for MSU Extension in Clare County. “We would be celebrating our 100th year next summer,” MSU Extension Program Educator Michelle Neff said. She has been with MSU Extension for the past 15 years.

“Our program is unique,” Neff said. “We are even able to help people starting a business by pulling experts from all over Michigan. Without MSU Extension, those people won’t be able to get the help they need.”

MSU Extension District Coordinator Shari Spoelman said in the annual report, “Through our partnership with the local county, we are able to bring state and federal funding into the local Extension office to bring resources of the land grant university to this community. Our mission is to help “… people improve their lives through an educational process.” We do this by bringing resources from our four Institutes, or areas, of programming: Agriculture and Agribusiness; Children & Youth (includes 4-H); Health and Nutrition; and Greening Michigan (Natural Resources, Leadership Development, and Economic and Community Development).
Her report lists that in 2015, MSU served 3,315 youth and adults through programs, classes, presentations and contacts.

The MSU Master Gardner program, consisting of approximately 25 Master Gardeners, designed and maintains the Clare Welcome Center and even the County building along with several others, Neff added.

If the MSU County funding, approximately $80,000 annually, is eliminated, it will mean the end of all the department’s funding, Neff said. The other funding the county program gets, both federal and state appropriations, will also be eliminated. “We can’t get those funds without local investment,” she added.
Budget concerns and a $800,000 projected deficit at the county level is forcing extreme budget cuts for all county departments. The elimination of the MSU program would salvage just ten percent of the deficit.

Just six employees work at Clare County’s MSU (Michigan State University) Extension office. They include: Children and Youth Educator; 4-H Program Coordinator; Program Instructor for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education; Program Instructor for Financial & Homeownership Education; and Office Manager/Consumer Horticulture Program Coordinator.

Teagen Lafere, Financial and Housing Counselor, said Monday that another County Commission budget hearing is scheduled Thursday morning.
Supporters of the program were urged to attend the 9 a.m. budget meeting. A Facebook post by Gina Pratt Forster listed the phone numbers and email addresses for the Clare County Board of Commissioners. It said, “Call or email your Commissioner and let them know that you are a voter and that you support MSU Extension and 4-H and want this program funded in our County.”

In another Facebook post on Wednesday, Sherry Landon, involved in Clare County 4-H programs for many years as a volunteer said, “If you have benefited from any of the programs MSU Extension offers and feel they are a valuable tool please come to the meeting.”

And, many MSU-E supporters were there at the meeting. Thursday after the meeting, long-time 4-H supporter and volunteer Sherry Landon reported on what she saw at the budget meeting in the morning. She said it was standing room only with the room packed with MSU Extension personnel and supporters of the program and especially 4-H.

She said about 10 audience members spoke to the County Commission at the meeting, asking that they reconsider cutting the county funding for MSU Extension and outlining the benefits of the program to the area.

Spoelman spoke at the meeting about possible cuts that could be made to the program without eliminating it. She told the board they would be willing to work with the board on a compromise to keep the county program. She also mentioned that approximately $45,000 could keep MSU Extension operating.

Commissioners asked about the costs to operate the program, discussed a possible millage and asked if Extension could accept private donations. But, even after hearing all the concerns from the audience, the board still did not reconsider their vote on Tuesday to eliminate all funding for MSU.
“There’s still time for us,” Neff said. “The budget hasn’t been adopted yet.”

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