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Counties begin dealing with fallout from Extension cuts

The fallout from statewide budget cuts to the Cooperative Extension Service is tumbling into the laps of county commissioners throughout the Mitchell area.

The fallout from statewide budget cuts to the Cooperative Extension Service is tumbling into the laps of county commissioners throughout the Mitchell area.

Tuesday, commissioners in Davison and Hutchinson counties dealt with issues arising from the cuts, which were announced earlier this year. The Extension Service, headquartered at South Dakota State University in Brookings, provides agricultural education across the state and also has been crucial in the operation of 4-H programs for youth.

Anxious Davison County 4-H supporters jammed the tiny Commissioners' Room at the courthouse Tuesday in Mitchell to solicit support for a 4-H partnership with Hanson County.

The commissioners gave their tacit support to the concept, but were unwilling to commit to any financial arrangement until they hear a presentation from an SDSU official next week regarding a statewide consolidation plan for Extension. That plan could make Davison County one of seven regional offices.

Meanwhile, Turner County has approached Hutchinson 4-H leaders about sharing an adviser. Hutchinson County commissioners discussed that proposal but took no formal action Tuesday in Olivet.

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Through the Extension Service's plan for reorganization, counties with fewer than 2,500 children can cooperate to share an adviser. Extension will pay half the salary at $16,750 plus benefits, and the counties will each pay a portion of the other half. If Hutchinson shares with Turner, each county would pay $8,375.

"With this adviser position, when we hire them, is this a one-year contract or a five-year contract or what?" asked Mike Letcher, Parkston.

Karla Trautman, associate director of SDSU Extension, told the Hutchinson County commissioners and visitors at the meeting the adviser contract is year-to-year and if the county is not happy with that person's performance, the county can hire a new adviser.

She said Extension created the 4-H adviser position to ensure uninterrupted delivery of programs, but also maintain an active 4-H presence at the local level. The adviser is responsible to organize, plan and make sure the 4-H program is headed in the right direction and is complying with state and federal guidelines.

"A 4-H adviser position is going to be critical for us to maintain that momentum and presence locally," she said. "The adviser is focused on 4-H and in the long run will have the ability to grow and develop the program."

Davison County

Many 4-H parents are worried about the future of the program, County Fair Board Chairman and 4-H leader Brad Greenway told the Davison County commissioners. He and others gave testimonials about the positive effects 4-H has had on their own lives as well as the lives of their children.

Other counties are also scrambling to make sure their programs survive and the Davison County 4-H program wants to find itself a partner before they're all snapped up, Greenway said after the meeting.

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"I think the urgency with our group is that we want to make sure that -- because counties are starting to pair up -- that we felt our best option was (a partnership) between Davison and Hanson counties. I know there are a lot of details to work out, but I think this is a good first step.

"I think we got what we needed today and we fully understand that they have to finalize their numbers, but it shows that they're willing to support 4-H and that they're willing to co-op with other counties."

Area 4-Hers also plan to meet with the Hanson County commissioners this week .

The 4-H leaders presented the commissioners with budget options to pay for a 4-H adviser. In the first option, a full-time county 4-H adviser would cost Davison County $16,750 and SDSU would pay an additional $25,252, an amount that includes salary and benefits.

In the second option, a county 4-H adviser would be shared with another county and both counties would share a 10-week summer intern. That option would cost Davison County $10,537, and SDSU would pay $27,404.

On the issue of a regional Extension center in Mitchell, Commission Chairman John Claggett said he received a list of specifications for a regional office from Joanne Haase, co-chairperson for the regional placement committee. That list requires 10,000 to 15,000 square feet of office space in a high-traffic area. The office would have a staff of 10 to15 people.

The Davison County Extension center at the fairgrounds has about 3,500 square feet, but it is attached to the county fairgrounds complex, which has more space that is not heavily used.

Claggett and other commissioners initially were concerned that Davison would be asked to increase its Extension budget to pay a hunk of the consolidation costs. After making several phone calls, Auditor Susan Kiepke said she was assured that SDSU will shoulder the costs involved with the office consolidation. The commissioners will hear a full presentation on the matter at next week's meeting.

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All commissioners expressed their support for 4-H and the long-time positive role it has played in the county, but Commissioner Jerry Fischer said making any financial commitment at this time is premature.

"This is great information and I'm all for it, but we have to be careful how we present ourselves," he said.

Commissioner Gerald Weiss was unrestrained in this support. "These kids are our future," he said, "and we need good leaders."

Hutchinson County

Trautman suggested to the Hutchinson County commissioners that each county maintain its local Extension office by keeping a secretary.

"It would allow 4-H a local home here in Hutchinson County and allows 4-H members and leaders to have a place to come," Trautman said. "It also allows that 4-H adviser a place to headquarter here."

Maintaining the office will also give the area an opportunity to continue providing other educational services.

Currently, Hutchinson County has three people serving in its Extension office. With a decision to hire an adviser with Turner County and a full-time secretary, it would be down to two. In turn, the budget will call for fewer supplies as the adviser would not be in the office as much and a lot of work could be done by e-mail.

"The partnership, I think for your two counties, is ideal in that ... you both have very strong programs that would allow both counties to have their separate events," Trautman said. "And yet there may be some events the two counties may choose to go together on simply because it might create a stronger experience for the youth involved."

In order to make a 4-H adviser position work, 4-H leaders insist a full-time secretary is necessary. Kristi Goehring, rural Parkston, said many volunteers agree that the secretary does a lot of work to keep the adviser going.

"Sharing with Turner County ... we really can't nail (the adviser) down to a schedule when they're going to be here and when they're going to be there," Letcher said. "So when we're calling trying to get information ... that's where our secretary's going to come in and either find the information for us or get it from that person and return it to us."

Trautman reassured the crowd Extension would oversee the adviser during his or her first year until counties work out firm schedules.

The 4-H volunteers also said they realize that with this consolidation, many other programs, like the dog show, may be co-oped with other counties. However, they would like to see Hutchinson County maintain its own fair, Goehring said. Hutchinson already works with Bon Homme County on some events and will not stop that relationship, she added, but having more area activities and pooling resources to offer workshops is a benefit of the reorganization.

Hutchinson County Commission Chairman Gillas Stern played devil's advocate and asked if Hutchinson County could hire its own full-time adviser without Extension oversight. Trautman said it's possible, but it would be a risk for the county to "lose the right to the clover."

"There's no ability for (SDSU) to intercede in the balance of that relationship between that county employee and the 4-H Leader's Association should things go badly," Trautman said.

Stern also asked whether counties are able to hire their own adviser under SDSU. Trautman said the county could, but would pay more than half the salary -- such as a 75/25 split -- and the position would probably be without benefits.

"I strongly encourage counties to really consider supporting the adviser position. That way we have the ability to put the thumb down so it's our problem versus your problem in ensuring that staff member is implementing the state and federal guidelines for 4-H with the 4-H leaders in partnership," she said.

Hutchinson County commissioners will work on the 2012 budget in May, June and part of July prior to deciding whether to share a 4-H adviser with Turner County, said Jeanie Simonson, auditor.

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