Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Public protests 4-H cuts

Program would “disappear,” say volunteers


Picabo rancher Nick Purdy speaks at a county commissioners meeting in fvor of funding a 4-H coordinator position.

More than 45 county residents stormed a Blaine County commissioners meeting Tuesday to protest the potential elimination of a 4-H coordinator position as well as raises for county employees.

Commissioners proposed last week to cut county expenses for fiscal 2012 by eliminating four positions, including one that the county funds at the University of Idaho Blaine County Extension office.

The only currently vacant position is the 4-H coordinator, but organization members and volunteers said eliminating a full-time 4-H coordinator would kill the program.

"A very worthwhile organization in the county will disappear," said Jodi Olsen, 4-H club leader.

Support for the program was evident in the passion expressed by both volunteers and members, some of whom teared up when discussing how important 4-H has been to them.

"This is the best thing that has ever happened in my life," said an emotional Kenrick Villavicencio, who has raised 4-H pigs for the market animal sale for several years.

Verla Goitiandia, county resident and volunteer, said all of her sons and now her granddaughters have been and are members of 4-H.

"4-H isn't just sewing and cooking and raising animals anymore," she said. "It's about leadership."

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said she works with 4-H kids through a program called Know Your Government, where children can learn about the legislative process.

Jaquet said she's hired many of her pages from this program, and hopes that some day they will run for office thanks to 4-H.

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"It's an incredible program," she said.

Volunteers said the program could not exist without a coordinator to manage volunteers and make sure everything runs smoothly.

Kathi Kimball, former 4-H coordinator for the extension office, said many people think that managing club work and organizing the Blaine County Fair is all the coordinator does, but those tasks only account for about a third of the job. Though volunteers can pick up some of the slack, she said, they can't do everything without a coordinator.

Picabo rancher Bud Purdy said he understood the need for the county to make cuts, but that he thought the decision to cut 4-H was politically motivated.

"The south county's a good place to cut, because you don't have the votes down there," he said, urging the commissioners to look elsewhere for reductions.

Several attendees suggested other cuts could be made, beginning with county wages. The budget proposed last week included a 1 percent across-the-board increase for county employees. County staff said the increase was necessary to retain employees, but some residents disagreed.

"Most people that have a job are happy to have it," said county resident Rich Gouley. "They're not going to quit if they don't get a raise."

Former 4-H Coordinator Thelma Cameron suggested that the county commissioners themselves take a pay cut in order to fund the position.

"You're making more than we are," she said. "Why can't you make sure we have a fair?"

Commissioner Angenie McCleary said she was touched by the "tremendous, heartfelt" testimony.

"My intention was never to cut 4-H," she said, but added that the county had to take a hard look at its expenses.

Bowman suggested that the vacancy could become a county position, rather than a university one, thereby allowing the county more control over salary and hiring practices.

A final solution will be discussed and debated as the board prepares to set a final budget in September. Goitiandia said she was sure the county could find funding for the position.

"If we can afford an airport, we can afford a 4-H coordinator," she said.

County sets tentative budget

The Blaine County commissioners set the fiscal 2012 tentative budget during their meeting on Tuesday, totaling just over $26.4 million.

The tentative budget assumes the county will take its full property tax increase, which Commissioner Angenie McCleary said would come to roughly a $5 increase for each $100,000 in home values.

This budget is also known as the "maximum" budget, because it sets the high level for the next fiscal year's expenses.

Commissioners and staff will work over the next month to cut expenses and balance the budget before final numbers are set in early September.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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