101117-star-news-budget-1

The Juneau County Board is considering cuts to the UW-Extension.

Jake Edkhal/Star-Times

The UW-Extension program may soon have fewer agents in Juneau County.

According to Juneau County finance director Lori Chipman, the 2018 county budget was $1.5 million short, and several cuts had to be made.

Chipman anticipates the cut will result in fewer UW-Extension agents in Juneau County, but said it will ultimately be UW-Extension’s decision. Potentially, rather than two full-time agents, “(they) could have four part-time, depends on what they want to do ... They could have one full-time and two part-time,” Chipman said.

Currently, there are three full-time UW Extension agents for Juneau County. The fourth retired in September, and has not been replaced.

The Juneau County finance committee has proposed to cut the total UW-Extension tax levy by 40.8 percent. This change stems from the proposal to cut contracted professional services in half, from the requested $155,965 to $77,983. Previously, the county paid for 40 percent of the UW-Extension agents’ salaries, while the state paid the remaining 60 percent. But the University of Wisconsin’s nEXT Generation Project has changed that arrangement so rather than have counties pay for 40 percent of agents’ salaries, the county will now pay for 100 percent of services. This means the county will now pay for services instead of salary for the workers who provide services.

In terms of total cost, the change for Juneau County is relatively small. Without the Finance Committee’s proposed cut, the county would pay $155,965, up from last year’s $148,500, an increase of 5 percent. The proposed cut would remove $77,982, more than ten times what is necessary compensate for the increase in cost for UW-Extension contracted professional services.

For local business owner John Hamm, the cut would be unacceptable.

“I was on the county board for 12 years,” Hamm said, “They got a multi-million dollar budget. They can find some money for the agents.”

Hamm has launched a Facebook group titled “Save Juneau County UW Extension Agents” and is coordinating efforts to display public disapproval for the cut.

Former Elroy Mayor Sharon Knuth has also voiced concern.

“I do understand budgets,” she said. “I do understand that money is tight.”

The 4-H youth development program, which is run through the UW-Extension, has been a particular concern for many. For Knuth, it is “so important to keep it. My kids were all in it.”

4-H is designed to teach life skills that equip youth to be successful. It has more than 150,000 young people involved. 4-H includes educational, after school, and health oriented programs, among others.

Area extension director Jay Danpier said he understands the county’s situation, but hopes they will pay more than the proposed amount.

“I do understand the challenges the county is facing,” he said. “The finance committee has the very difficult task of balancing the overall budget.”

Danpier oversees UW-Extension programs for Juneau, Adams, Waushara, Green Lake, and Marquette Counties.

“One of the challenges of the rural counties in Wisconsin is we have fewer resources,” he said. “This is often where UW-Extension really shines, in rural areas.”

The UW-Extension restructuring is the result of the recent cut to the University of Wisconsin system which “took a $250 million cut, system wide. Each campus, each unit — we all took a proportion of that cut. And that triggered the reorganization,” Danpier said.

County board chairman Alan Peterson said the cut is simply a result of a tighter budget for 2018, and that the UW-Extension program was not the only part of the budget to receive one. Both the highway and the sheriff departments received cuts in the finance committee’s proposal as well.

“We’re going to cut back,” Peterson said. Peterson also said he did not anticipate the decreased funding having negative effects for the 4-H program.

“I don’t think anybody is going to notice a difference, that we did this, when it’s all said and done,” he said.

The county board is scheduled to vote on the budget proposal on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

You can reach Jake Ekdahl on Twitter @JakeaEkdahl