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Extension and 4-H leaders concerned over program’s status


Thu, Jul 3rd, 2003
Posted in Features

"We push 4-H because it touches almost 500 kids,” stated Judy Frank, Fillmore County Extension Committee chairperson. Frank, County Extension Director Jerry Tesmer, and Luann Hinike of the SE District Extension Office, came before the commissioners at their Tuesday, July 1 meeting. Extension Office staff and several 4-H leaders were also on hand to lend support.

The group was steamed over a letter that was put together outlining the county’s intentions regarding the reorganization of the Extension Office staff due to state budget cuts. After a recent four-county meeting with Wabasha, Houston, Winona and Fillmore counties (two of our commissioners were present), a letter was drafted and addressed to the university. However, it was not passed through the Extension Committee before copies of it were e-mailed to individuals.

"I feel like the board slapped me in the face,” said Frank. Members felt a draft should have come through them before any action was taken. To make matters worse, the letter said the county would consider commitng to a .5 FTE (full-time equivalent) 4-H Coordinator, a .5 FTE support staff, and .25 FTE from the Regional Center. The present staff includes a 1.0 FTE 4-H Coordinator, .33 FTE Regional 4-H Educator, a .25 Summer internship position, and 1.8 FTE in support staff. The county also has the benefit of the experience from Jerry Tesmer, County Extension Director, and Shelia Craig and Amy Anderson, both Regional Extension Educators.

"Its tough to take a good program and kill it, then try to rebuild it," said Tesmer. A part-time 4-H Coordinator isn’t the answer stated Tesmer for the entire group.

Michelle Redalen, another member of the Extension Committee felt the board was undermining their authority and creating animosity between the university and the county.

The board speaks . . .

"I don’t like the university holding us hostage," stated Chairman Mark Prestby. The time frame is so short, noted the commissioner in regard to making good decisions in such a critical area.

"I think they’re asking us to walk off a cliff. I don’t think this cut was meant to end up with these results,” said a very frustrated Randy Dahl. "The whole thing is getting away from the rural community. The university needs to get its act together."

Dahl said it’s just another example of the state going after something that is very dear to the counties, like their senior citizens. The state knows the counties won’t back down. In turn, counties must stretch an already taunt budget.

"You’re letting the university off the hook by saying we’ll have (pay) a fulltime coordinator and staff,” countered Dahl. He says the university needs to refocus and shrink down so they can focus on more critical areas such as 4-H.

Commissioner Duane Bakke acknowledged that the letter was sent prematurely. It wasn’t the board’s intention to bully anyone. Dahl pointed out that Houston County wasn’t ready to act on the issue yet.

"I don’t think we can run 4-H on 20 hours a week" supported Commissioner Chuck Amunrud.

"I don’t think anyone is arguing the 40 hours", admitted Dahl. It’s just that the state is creating an arm wrestling match between their authority and the county’s wallet.

District Extension Officer Hiniker admitted the past is painful in regard to the two parties’ conflict of opinions.

"The university is trying to be responsive,” shielded Hiniker. The university has had 108 applications for the 18-22 potential Regional Centers that will be operating come January 1.

Past Extension Committee chairman Doug Lind expressed concerns over the possibility of the county not becoming a Regional Center. Would the local office close its doors? The commissioners assured him that they saw no such thing happening.

The following is an agreed upon budget that will be submitted to upper offices in mid July: $1,500 for Extension Committee;

$41,585 for secretarial salary and benefits;

$5,000 for summer internship; $9,900 for operating expenses and background checks;

$0 for equipment purchases and field expense;

$59,250 for U of M contract for 4-H Coordinator. This last figure includes salary & fringe, enhanced programming, REE supervision, travel, expanded, regional support staff assistance, in-service training within program area and university payroll, accounting, etc.

Social Services

Social Services Director Tom Boyd requested the approval of a revised Emergency Assistance policy. Aid would be distributed based on three points: 1) Emergency aid will be limited to once in an 18-month period (was 12 months); 2) Only vendor or protective payee payments will be issued; 3) All emergency aid must have supervisory approval prior to issuance. Eligibility requirements are based on six components (details available at Social Services office) and an individual’s current status.

Because of uncontrollable fluctuations at times, such as the price of natural gas, that can reach havoc on lower income families, Boyd felt the department needed to set aside approximately $40-45,000 for the year to meet emergency needs. The policy needs to be in place by July 15, 2003.

Commissioner Bakke showed concerns over the potential for abusing the system regarding a once in an 18-month period assistance. However, there is only so much Social Services can do and does monitor each case carefully. The Board gave approval.

Other business

•John Grindeland, Highway Engineer, and representatives from the Root Prairie Lutheran Church located on CSAH #6 reviewed a proposal which would include paving an approximately 800’x20’ stretch in front of the church for repair purposes. The church wished to expand their parking area as well. As CSAH #11 is already in the bituminous process, the proposal would tie in well and be cost effective. The county’s cost would be about $5,532.80 for the 800’ and the church’s parking lot expansion would run about $7,261.80. The board gave approval and the contract must now go back to the church for final approval.

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