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Serving: WI

Extension Loses Big in County Budget Battle

Jefferson County hit hard.

Despite dozens of impassioned pleas to the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors from farmers, 4-H members, businessmen, state Extension staff and others not to cut Extension programs in 2009, the county board voted on Nov. 10 to slash county funding for Extension by 29.9% or $123,000 in the 2009 county budget.

Gone is longtime Jefferson County Extension Dairy and Livestock Agent Ken Bolton's position. The position held by full-time secretary Kim Buchholz, who provided support for Bolton and Joe Bollman, Extension crops and soils agent, was also eliminated as was the half-time 4-H youth assistant's job. The county board voted to replace that position with a 4-H summer intern and agreed to restore funding for the full-time 4-H secretary's position held by Judy Statz. In another shocking move, the county board voted to charge each of the 800 4-H members a fee of $20 a year to raise $16,000 to help pay for the 4-H program in Jefferson County. The budget takes effect Jan. 1.

Painful cuts

"It's impossible for us to maintain the level of service to the people of Jefferson County that they are used to by cutting these positions," says Rick Klemme, Dean of UW-Extension. "We believe in our investment."

According to the Jefferson County Agribusiness Club, agriculture accounts for $1.5 billion in economic activity in Jefferson County and pays $40 million a year in taxes, not including property taxes for schools. A large portion of those taxes paid by Jefferson County farmers will be used to pay the $24.9 million 2009 county budget passed Nov. 10 by the county board.

Many farmers and Extension supporters believe the cuts to Extension were unfair and unjustified and could have been avoided. Bolton agrees.

"It's disappointing that the county board of the 11th ranking county in the value of agricultural production in the state doesn't understand or value agriculture," Bolton said following the final budget vote. "They (county board supervisors) are patting themselves on the back because they didn't cut the Farmland Preservation budget. They think they are doing agriculture a favor and are preserving farmland, but if you have successful farmers that's how you preserve farmland."

Bolton says the county board doesn't understand or care to listen to farmers.

"Dozens of people testified and wrote letters on our behalf, but in the end, they failed to have a positive impact on the final decision," he says.

Bolton explained that the cuts to the Extension program are a missed opportunity for county residents. For every dollar the county spends on the dairy and livestock position, there's a return of 17 to 1.

"Sixty percent of Extension salaries and benefits are funded by the UW and 40% by the county. The county provides office space, secretarial support, supplies and the bulk of travel funds. Since the University provides specialist and administrative support, the total package balances out very close to the 60:40 share for the state-county partnership," he says. "That represents a significant leveraging of state and federal funds for the local benefit. But that pales in comparison in terms of economic and quality of life impacts for local citizens."

Bolton says farmers don't need to wait until the April 2010 county board elections to send a message to the county board.

"It's up to the public to see if they support the board's choices," he says. "Some of the communication will be in support of what they have done, but a lot of it won't be."

Supporters disappointed

Paul Essock, president of the Fort Atkinson FFA Alumni, participated in a protest in the courthouse parking lot prior to the county board budget meeting on Nov. 11. Essock was one of a group 20 to 25 farmers who drove their tractors, manure spreaders and other farm equipment to the meeting and parked them in the courthouse parking lot forcing county board members to walk past the farm equipment and protest signs on their way into the meeting.

"I have a vested interest in the youth involved in ag," Essock said. "Ag is very strong in this community and we are trying to remind county board members of that fact before they vote."

Paying to be in 4-H

Jefferson County will be the only county in Wisconsin to charge 4-Hers a revenue generation fee. And while several families involved in the 4-H program spoke of the hardship the $20 fee will be to families, especially those with three or more children, County Board Chair Sharon Schmeling said that the fees are appropriate.

"My kids are in 4-H," Schmeling said at a Nov. 4 budget hearing "My kids would pay the $20 a year fee to be in 4-H. They have to pay a fee to be in scouts and to be in sports. There might be some families who can't pay, but the clubs should be able to come up with the money to pay the fees for those who can't afford it."

Watertown dairy farmer Daphne Holterman disagrees. Holterman said she protested all of the cuts to the Extension program.

"I sent letters, I spoke at meetings, I talked about the importance of Extension," she says. "They told us they wanted one crops and livestock agent."

Holterman milks 800 cows with her husband Lloyd south of Watertown. She believes this is the wrong time to be eliminating the dairy and livestock agent's position.

"With the volatility in prices and a chaotic economy this isn't the time to be cutting Extension," she says. "Ken Bolton, has been a huge help to us when we were small farmers and now when we have grown our farm. Who can pay for consultants at $150 an hour – especially young farmers?"

Although Holterman says she doesn't want to run for county board in the spring of 2010 due to her busy schedule, she also doesn't rule out the possibility.

"If other farmers don't step up and run for the board, I might have to," she says.

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