Proposed Genesee County budget cuts would kill MSU Extension here

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Proposed Genesee County budget cuts would kill MSU Extension here
by Ron Fonger | The Flint Journal
Thursday August 13, 2009, 12:15 PM

GENESEE COUNTY -- The county is in line to become just the second in Michigan not to have its own Michigan State University Extension office if recommendations for budget cuts become reality.

And master gardener Joanie Snyder said that's a dubioius distinction the area can do without.

"It would be a mistake (and) a shame," said Snyder, who serves as the chairwoman of demonstration gardens at Crossroads Village, a program coordinated through MSU Extension. "We provide a lot of volunteering. We save the county a lot of money (just) by keeping county parks looking good.

"I knew these (proposed) cuts were coming, and it would be a horrible blow to the county," the Forest Township resident said. "I would be very sad to see this program axed."

The shutdown would cost the area 4-H, master gardner and other programs, some of which have been here for at least 50 years.

But Controller George Martini said state law doesn't require that the services be provided, a key factor in his recommendation to eliminate more than $148,000 in funding.

"They provide very good services, great services, to our county but unfortunately it is a discretionary service," Martini said.

The county Board of Commissioners has until the end of September to adopt a balanced budget that includes more than $15 million in cuts.

Cathy Newkirk, acting director of MSU Extension-Genesee County, said the local office can't stay open without county funds.

"We would not be able to function without (the county appropriation)," Newkirk said, and shutting down the office would make the county just the second in the state without its own extension office.

Houghton and Keewenaw county's in the Upper Peninsula share an extension office. MSU also provides support for all the extension programs.

"Historically, MSU has provided the staff to conduct educational programs and county government has provided the operating dollars to support the programs," Newkirk wrote in an electronic message. "If a county partner opts out of the partnership, MSU cannot provide the financial support to maintain an office in Genesee County.

"Eliminating county support would eliminate all of the programs offered in Genesee County by MSU Extension, including 4-H and the Master Gardener Volunteer Program," Kewkirk's message said.

County commissioners must make the final decision on how to reduce the county budget. Martini made his recommendations this week as part of that process, suggesting cuts to every office in the county.

Sheriff Robert Pickell and Prosecutor David Leyton are among officials who are already lobbying the nine commissioners to spare them at least some of the recommended cuts, and Newkirk said she would also make the case for the county to continue funding her office before a budget is adopted.

County board Chairman Ted Henry said many counties are looking at their support of the MSU Extension programs because the service is not mandated by state law.

"I'm in favor of trying to have the county provide some in-kind support that would enable it to stay open," Henry said. "I'm stressing to them to seek out, reach out, and get whatever (other financial) help they can get," Henry said. "It's a service a lot of people use. I'm definitely in favor" of keeping it open.

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