CRYSTAL FALLS—As the final days of 2013 ticked away, one unanswered question hovering over the Courthouse was: Will there be a 4-H program in Iron County in 2014?
That decision will eventually come down to the Michigan State University Extension, after the County Board voted during its Dec. 12 meeting to reduce its MSUE allocation in the new county budget to $17,000.
The Extension had been looking for $34,545. The issue was discussed at length during the Dec. 12 regular meeting.
A public hearing on the new budget preceded the regular meeting, and the future of 4-H was the topic of most speakers. All supported 4-H, sometimes passionately and emotionally so, and said how much it means to Iron County’s children.
However, MSUE, which runs the 4-H program, didn’t get a free pass. Even some of 4-H’s biggest advocates acknowledged problems with the Extension. Marvin Hill of the 4-H Sharpshooters said his group’s operations are supported 100 percent by county citizens and businesses, including downstate tournaments.
“MSU did not provide any funds for us at all. In fact, even the T-shirts—we had to buy our own T-shirts at $15 apiece.
“I wish you could reconsider. If not, let’s try something else. Maybe, if we could combine three or four counties in the U.P. as a 4-H. But I do not want to lose the 4-H emblem. We’ve worked too hard to keep it.”
A letter was read from Carol Callovi, former 4-H leader, who said 4-H doesn’t want to consider a part-time administrator. She said the position doesn’t require a master’s degree, citing several past local 4-H leaders with just a high school diploma who did very well. “We only need someone to coordinate programs and have good communication with club leaders.”
Another Sharpshooters leader said she has been asking how MSU uses local funds and never gotten an answer. “But there’s so much that 4-H gives to our kids. Giving our kids the ability to do something fun with all that time—shooting or riding horses or arts and crafts or just being around other people and learning something new.”
Doug Brahee, interim director for MSUE, talked about the four different areas the Extension serves: health and nutrition education, children and youth, agriculture and ag business and economic-community development.
Brahee said $31,000 of the county’s $34,545 assessment goes to hire a 4-H coordinator (fringes and salary)—the rest is for education programs throughout the state.
He said requirements for a 4-H coordinator are the same as if it was a position at a university: “a bachelor’s [degree] or some post-high school education with experience working with volunteers.”
Jim Brennan, the board’s finance chairman, said the county does not want to get out of 4-H. “We’re looking for you to figure out, for $17,000, how to keep our 4-H alive. It’s not ‘take it or leave it.’”
Brennan said there are 126 youths in the Iron County 4-H program over 10 active clubs. At $17,000, it’s $1,700 per club or $180 per youth. “That’s a lot of money.”
For many years, Iron County had its own Extension agent and 4-H coordinator. Now, those positions are based in Dickinson County.
Brahee said even a half-time coordinator has a hard time meeting local needs. “To go with $17,000 would be quarter-time at best” and MSUE is not considering anything that low. He said MSUE is willing to lower the amount to $30,000 and maintain the half-time position.
Rebecca Krans, whose work as a 4-H leader was praised by several speakers, doesn’t have a degree. She said she had been told “it wouldn’t be in MSU’s best interests” for her to fill the position.
The idea of a half-time 4-H coordinator serving only Iron County was suggested. Brahee said MSU wants full-time people because they are more inclined to stay on board; part-timers people are often looking for full-time work. “But I could explore that.”
Picking up on some of Brennan’s comments earlier, Steve Tinti, the county’s civil counsel, said Iron County’s experience is that it gets short-changed when sharing agencies with other counties.
“It has historically happened,” Tinti said, “and I do not see how, using a half-half system, that this county is going to receive a proper return on its investment.
“We will be a quarter of the population you are trying to serve, and you want us to pay half of the freight.”
Commissioner Timothy Aho said that since Iron County can only operate a 4-H program through a land-grant university like Michigan State, “That kind of ties our hands. We don’t have any options, and that’s not fair to the taxpayers.
“4-H is so important to the community,” Aho said, “but you are the only vehicle for providing it, and you are setting the price and saying This is what you have to do, or you won’t have 4-H.”
In the end, Brahee said he would take the county’s comments to the university and explore some of options that had been suggested. The board tabled a memorandum of understanding with MSU until it hears back.
Board Chairman Lind said that Michigan State’s football coach makes $1.2 million, “and he just got a gigantic raise.”
“And you want to cut 4-H? No way!”
(In fact, the Detroit Free Press report said MSU football coach Mark Dantonio was making $1.96 million before the raise. As for MSU men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo, he makes $3.22 million per year, according to USA Today.)