Area Director lays out Extension positions, programs, services to be eliminated in Lincoln County
Supervisors approved slash in funding for next year
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Editor
LINCOLN COUNTY – With Lincoln County’s Extension office facing a substantial cut in funding next year, Extension’s Area Director laid out the positions that will be eliminated and the programs and services that will no longer be offered.
The Lincoln County Board of Supervisors approved the 2023 Lincoln County budget during a special meeting earlier this month.
The spending plan includes a substantial slash in funding for the county’s Extension office.
A total of $45,000.00 in county dollars is allocated to Extension in 2023 – a roughly $128,000.00 (approximately 74%) reduction from the roughly $173,000.00 it received in 2022.
Extension sought roughly $208,000.000 in county funding for next year.
The cut in funding for Extension was part of the Lincoln County Finance and Insurance Committee’s efforts to deal with a $1.2 million shortfall in the 2023 budget.
Earlier this year, the committee proposed completely eliminating the county’s portion of funding for UW-Extension. Lincoln County and Extension have collaborated on funding the county’s Extension office for about a century, with Extension providing 55% of the monies and the county accounting for the remaining 45%.
The proposed elimination of Extension funding led to uncertainty and concern regarding the programs and services it facilitates in the county, including 4-H. Lincoln County residents and representatives from Extension, county 4-H clubs, Kinship of Tomahawk and other organizations utilized public comment periods during several county board meetings to speak in favor of funding Extension and/or maintaining 4-H.
In September, the board reviewed the first balanced 2023 budget proposal, in which no funding was allocated to Extension.
At the board’s October meeting, a budget amendment allocating $45,000.00 in Forestry Department revenue to Extension in order to fund a 4-H Coordinator position was unanimously approved, effectively maintaining the county’s 4-H program for 2023. The funding will also allow the county’s FoodWIse program to continue next year.
During the same meeting, an amendment that sought to fully fund Extension with about $200,000.00 in unassigned funds failed.
The board voted 13-5 to approve the 2023 Lincoln County budget during a special meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 2, making the cut in Extension funding official.
Area Extension Director lays out positions, programs, services to be eliminated
In a Monday, Nov. 21 email from the Lincoln County Extension office, Area Extension Director Art Lersch said it is “disheartening and unfortunate that the (Lincoln County board) has chosen to eliminate most of its investment in Lincoln County Extension education.”
“We recognize that the board has many difficult budget choices to make on an ongoing basis, but the reduction in funding for Extension services will have ripple effects throughout Lincoln County communities,” Lersch stated.
Lersch laid out numerous Extension positions that will be eliminated, and as a result, programs that Extension will no longer “have the capacity to deliver” due to the slash in Extension funding.
Among the positions that will be eliminated in 2023 is Extension’s Positive Youth Development/Health and Well Being Educator.
Lersch explained that in this role, Debbie Moellendorf coordinated a number of programs, including StrongBodies, mental health-related education to adults and youth, AODA education, the Social Norms project and Healthy Minds preventative and other education in conjunction with the Lincoln County Health Department.
Extension will no longer have a Community Development Coordinator next year.
In this position, Elizabeth McCrank offered organizational assistance for nonprofits, businesses and local governments and strategic planning for nonprofits, as well as rural broadband, housing expansion and community health assessment planning, Lersch said.
Lincoln County Extension’s Agriculture Educator position will also be eliminated in 2023.
In this role, Lersch said Scott Reuss coordinated the youth tractor and machinery certification course, nitrogen enhancement product research plots and nutrient management education for farms to increase crop yields and protect the environment, nitrogen and sulfur rate effects on winter wheat yield research plots and one-on-one and group farm consultations.
Another Extension position that will be eliminated is Office Support.
In this role, Becky Kludy provided in-office, email and phone customer service related to a variety of topics, along with answering customer questions, selling plat books, assisting with food preservation and pressure canner testing and providing soil and water sample kits, Lersch said.
“As we look to 2023 and continue to support the 4-H program, along with FoodWIse, we want those program participants to be aware that our office will not be open for walk-in traffic,” Lersch stated.
Lersch noted that Yates’ phone number will be communicated to 4-H stakeholders and the general public once available.
Questions related to FoodWIse can be directed to Lersch.
Lersch said Extension also wanted to remind county residents that without the co-investment from Lincoln County in a county support staff person or county-based educators for Health and Well Being, Agriculture and Community Development, Lincoln County will lose the ability to access regional and state specialists within UW-Madison Division of Extension.
Specialist and other educator advice and efforts will “necessarily be focused on counties that continue to invest in these program areas,” according to Lersch.
“The staff of Lincoln County Extension, Deborah Moellendorf, Elizabeth McCrank, Scott Reuss, Melissa Yates, Becky Kludy, Jeni Burton and Art Lersch thank you for the tremendous outpouring of community support that has been exhibited for Extension education in recent months, over the past few years and for at least a century in Lincoln County,” Lersch said. “It has been our pleasure to serve you and to help create positive community change in local communities.”
For more information on how Extension will be impacted by the 2023 Lincoln County budget, contact Area Extension Director Art Lersch at [email protected] or 715-218-5360.