WALKER -- Master gardeners, home extension club members and extension water quality program advocates filled the Cass County Board meeting room Tuesday to ask the board to support area programs and the extension office space in Pine River.
Earlier this fall, the board authorized a half-time 4-H coordinator, but has declined to authorize any more of the total $90,000 budget extension seeks to maintain a scaled back county office.
Board Chair Jim Demgen told the group, after the county allocated $29,000 for the 4-H coordinator, it leaves the county with only $71,000 in the proposed 2004 unallocated fund for emergency county needs out of a $4 million budget.
With state levy limits on the amount of additional funds the county can obtain through property taxes and a $1.5 million cut in the county's state aid funding for 2004, Demgen said the county has no source for additional money.
"We're laying off nine people who have families. You think this is fun?" he asked.
Master gardener Candy Barthel read a list of benefits research has found green spaces give people, such as lower crime rates and more support among neighbors, as well as the idea that giving people a view of trees from their hospital room helps them heal more quickly and be released from hospitals more quickly.
Master gardener Beth Davies noted the amount of volunteer hours master gardeners put into that program to teach others and asked for a one-fourth time coordinator so that can continue. She noted the benefit shoreline landscaping has for water quality.
Katie Hoover, extension committee member, asked that the extension office in Pine River be kept open, so when more money is available in the future the office still will be available to house employees.
She said other counties are continuing to support a scaled back local office. Extension is the only local educational resource besides public schools here, she said, adding that education lowers the number of people who need higher cost services from human services and law enforcement departments.
Demgen explained that Cass' population growth has hurt the county under the new state funding formula, so Cass expects even less state funding in 2005 than 2004 compared with neighboring counties.
Eleanor Burkett has worked in the local office as a horticulturalist. She will be reassigned to the regional extension office Jan. 1 in Brainerd.
When the board asked how her job will change, she said one-fourth of her time will be dedicated to tracking exotic species statewide, not just in this region. The rest of her time will be spent on water quality programs, giving classes throughout the multi-county region and across the state.
"I won't be able to talk to individuals for an hour about their shoreline restoration anymore," she said.
The county board asked current Cass County Extension Director Mardi Harder to calculate revised figures for a one-fourth time program coordinator and report back to the board. Harder will become regional director in Grand Rapids Jan. 1.
Later in the meeting Tuesday, the board formally acted in accordance with the proposed 2004 budget and authorized issuing layoff notices to the Health, Human and Veterans Services senior services coordinator, the extension service administrative secretary, two building and grounds custodians and two auditor-treasurer's office mail clerks.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.