I was recently asked if Extension would stop offering programs in a county if the county no longer funded local Extension positions. I was surprised by this question, which is why it is the subject of this week's column.
This is the same question that prompted Extension's major restructuring in 2004. At that time, Extension educators were located in county offices, and Extension's funding from state, federal and county partners were combined to pay for those positions. During the 2003 state budget crisis, some counties told us they were not going to be able to continue providing their funding. Extension needed to find a new model that ensured that our statewide programming continued regardless of county investment, while allowing counties to receive additional services if they did invest in Extension.
Our current model ensures that regional and statewide Extension programs are available for all Minnesotans. These regional and state positions are funded through state and federal dollars. Counties can choose to supplement the regional and statewide programs with local county-funded program positions, including 4-H program coordinators, Extension educators and Master Gardener coordinators.
While Washington County's decision to eliminate funding for local 4-H Extension positions has drawn a significant amount of attention, it is important to remember that our 2009 contracts with counties included an increase in funding from eight counties and slight reductions from seven counties. While counties have difficult budget decisions ahead, commissioners from across the state continue to tell me how committed they are to Extension in their counties. However, we do know and acknowledge that it will not be possible to maintain the some level of 4-H programming without a local program coordinator.
We will continue to work closely with counties to support their investment in Extension. And, if a county reduces or eliminates funding, we will continue to provide our regional and state programs and information to people in those counties.