The treasured homegrown potatoes and carefully built coffee tables displayed at county fairs across Minnesota could be threatened by government budget woes.

One county announced it’s cutting funding for 4-H and two other counties already don’t fund 4-H.

But an official with the University of Minnesota Extension doesn’t anticipate many or any other counties following suit in entirely cutting 4-H funding. It’s more likely there could be trimming of the budgets for 4-H.

“Certainly counties are facing difficulties. But the counties think 4-H is very worthwhile and they want to work with us on delivering it,” said Aimee Viniard-Weideman, assistant dean with Extension.

Judy Hanson, chairwoman of the Nicollet County Board, said the topic came up at a recent brainstorming session.

“Myself and at least a couple of others said it’s tough times, but if we can do something to help young people and the elderly, that’s our obligation, that has to happen,” Hanson said.

Still, Nicollet County did trim the hours of an intern position for 4-H. The county last year actually increased the hours for the county’s 4-H coordinator so she could spend more time coordinating youth programming, including after-school programs.

“If you can keep one kid out of home placement, we’ve recouped our costs. And those are the kids they are reaching out to with after-school programs. It’s a good investment,” Hanson said.

Auditor Bridgette Kennedy said Nicollet County has budgeted $64,900 for the coordinator position and $6,050 for the part-time intern position.

Funding for Extension offices in each county comes from federal, state and county funds. Counties contract with Extension to provide services like Extension educators at the county level, but the counties generally fund the county 4-H coordinators.

Viniard-Weideman said that while she doubts full 4-H coordinator positions will be cut in other counties, she expects county Extension offices will face some overall reductions as counties struggle with budgets.

“We’re definitely having those conversations where different counties are running scenarios and looking at reductions in all departments’ budgets,” she said.

“The counties in your area have very strong 4-H programs and I expect that to continue.”

Nathan Crane, regional Extension director based in Mankato, said they appreciate the support they get from counties.

“We understand in these tough economic times they have tough decisions to make,” Crane said. “We have great county support in our area in investing in 4-H and we’re pleased with that support.”

In Stillwater, the Washington County Board expects to vote next week to cut funding for its 4-H program, which serves 800 young people in the east metro county. The county now funds two full-time employees of the Extension Service who manage the program.

The Extension Service says Washington could become the third county in the state — after Ramsey and Cook — to not fund 4-H at all.

Myra Peterson, who chairs the Washington County Board, says the cuts are the result of less state aid to the county.

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