MSUE funding topic of debate

ESCANABA – The Delta County Board of Commissioners met with Michigan State University Extension officials Thursday to discuss the future of MSUE in Delta County.

During the committee of the whole meeting, several concerns were discussed over funding MSU Extension in Delta County’s budget for fiscal year 2013-14.

MSU Extension Director Tom Coon met with the board to follow up on how Delta County wants to move forward with its partnership.

MSUE provides many services to the community within four programmatic institutes: Agriculture and Agribusiness, Children and Youth, Greening Michigan, and Health and Nutrition; they are perhaps best known for providing 4-H services to the community.

“Two years ago, we shared with you our plans with coming to a standardized and trimmed down memorandum of agreement (MOA) with each county,” said Coon. “It’s been successful in a lot of ways. We’ve been able to implement that and we’ve been able to make the budget work with that…and we’ve learned from it.”

In meeting with the county two years ago, Delta County officials expressed an interest at looking into a multi-county arrangement with Dickinson and Menominee counties, which Coon said he was willing to look into, but since he has heard of no progress with this proposal, he recommended reverting to the standard MOA agreement as with other counties.

“Under the MOA, MSUE provides at least one educator in the county, access to all the programs MSUE offers and at least a half-time 4-H coordinator,” said Coon.

The county would be responsible for providing accessible office space to MSUE, support staff, $31,000 for a 4-H coordinator, plus county assessment money of 30 cents per resident based on the 2010 Census.

In total, this equates to an approximate $55,000 contribution by the county for rent and office space and $43,000 in other expenses.

The original proposed budget for 2013-14 indicated a recommended $25,000 appropriation from the county in addition to their rent and office space contribution, down from last year’s $50,000 appropriation plus rent and office space.

According to MSUE District Coordinator Jim Lucas, last year’s $50,000 appropriation was used to fulfill the MOA as well as phone, Internet, maintenance, and copier machine costs as well as providing some secretarial support.

“We’ve had a good partnership with Delta County,” said Coon. “We’ve had three educators. We’ve had more than that at times, but recently we’ve had three educators in the office and some others involved in some of our health and nutrition programs.”

One of the county’s three educators has since been assigned to Menominee County, but is still accessible to Delta County.

“I don’t want to be boastful, but I think we’ve worked really hard over the last two years to maintain this partnership,” Coon added. “I don’t think you’ve seen a drop-off in service. I think we’ve got a top-notch program, whether it’s agriculture or 4-H or financial literacy. I think Delta County residents get a really good Extension from us.”

He noted the agreement MSUE was requesting – an increase from the county’s proposed appropriation of $25,000 to $43,000, office space, and some type of clerical support, is a standard agreement.

Commissioner Ryan Holm noted the $43,000 is agreeable to him, but feels the county might differ from MSUE on whether they can provide support staff. Rivard expressed his desire to continue the 4-H program and said he feels there should also be an agriculture resource specialist available for farmers in the area.

Rivard made a motion for a recommendation to allocate $100,000 to MSUE for the upcoming 2013-14 budget, comprised of a $45,000 allocation and $55,000 in rent, which was supported by Holm. The measure passed by a 3-1 vote with support from Rivard, Holm, and Board Chairman Tom Elegeert. Board Vice-Chair Mary Harrington voted in opposition, and Commissioner Dave Moyle was absent from the committee meeting.

“I don’t like to be called upon at a meeting to make an immediate decision,” said Harrington, speaking on her opposition to the motion. “I like to have a chance to sit back, discuss…and look at how we are going to do this so that we do it in a responsible way.”

She noted the county must be diligent with its money, since economically, times have been hard.

The board will now meet to look at where the money would come from within the budget to support the recommendation, but warned if they cannot find any available funds, they may not be able to increase their appropriation.

The recommendation would then be presented before the board during an upcoming county board meeting prior to Oct. 1, which serves as the beginning of the next fiscal year.