WOOSTER, Ohio — Leaders in four Ohio counties say the May 4 primary election will be a deciding factor in the future of their 4-H and Ohio State University Extension programs.
Some say the elections will even determine whether there is a future for their programs, due to budgetary shortfalls in their respective counties.
Carroll, Highland, Jackson and Van Wert counties will all seek levies of differing amounts to help fund their futures.
In Carroll County
Carroll County is asking voters to support a five-year, .57 mill tax levy. Extension Educator and County Coordinator Mike Hogan said the future of their program will be determined by the vote.
“We have no carry over, no cushion,” he said.
Extension is a partnership between each county and the Ohio State University Extension. OSU provides county programs a match on the funds they raise. In addition to 4-H youth development, Extension provides educational services for most industries, including agriculture and consumer sciences.
The notion of losing the program is unsettling for many, especially because of what it has done for generations of rural and urban youth.
“People have a hard time wrapping their arms around canceling 4-H,” Hogan said, adding that without a local Extension program, children cannot participate.
The county serves about 500 4-H members.
In Van Wert County
Officials in Van Wert County are seeking a .4 mill, five-year levy. The stakes are pretty similar, according to County Director Andy Kleinschmidt.
“We’re in a situation where if the levy does not pass, we look to have our extension services severely reduced or eliminated as we have seen happen in some other counties that have struggled with local funding,” he said.
He said Van Wert commissioners have been financially supportive of 4-H and Extension, but because of budgetary shortfalls, the county cut some of its “non-mandatory” programs, which includes Extension.
Talking from experience. More than 550 4-H members are served by Van Wert’s Extension, said Cheri Oechsle, chairwoman of publicity for the campaign. Four of her own boys are members or veterans, and she was in 4-H herself.
“Extension has always been a huge part of my life,” she said. “If we don’t have 4-H, that limits so many things my kids can do.”
In Highland County
Voters are seeking a .45 mill levy. Budgetary shortfalls have put the county at risk of losing OSU matching money, and just like other counties, commissioners have cut financial support.
Officials say if the levy fails, all programs will be “severely reduced or eliminated.”
In Jackson County
In Jackson County, officials are seeking a .5 mill levy to keep Extension running. The program received no county funds for 2010 and has received other budget cuts, including a 67 percent budget cut in 2005.
Staff have been reduced, as well as staff hours.
The levy is expected to “provide a stable source of funding for the years 2010-2014″ and will allow Extension to be fully staffed with full-time office hours.”
Keith Smith, state director for OSU Extension, said he knows counties are struggling in the current economic climate, but hopes voters will see Extension to be the “economic engine” research shows it to be.
Extension currently provides free and reduced services to all of Ohio’s counties, including the areas of business retention and expansion, agricultural production, health and wellness and consumer sciences.
“I hope that they (voters) would look to the Extension as an economic engine to their county,” he said.