Extending the Extension

OSCEOLA COUNTY — No member of the Osceola County Board of Commissioners doesn’t recognize how important the Michigan State University Extension Service program is to the people of this county.

The problem they face, however, is how to keep the program alive, active, vibrant ... and funded.

With extensive budget cutting around the state, MSUE is also undergoing dramatic funding reductions.

As such, any expectation that the Extension Service’s ability to provide the same services, programs, and personnel, will be the same in each and every county in Michigan under the same conditions as in year’s past just isn’t realistic.

MSUE is looking at cuts and a new formula for funding with individual counties, and Osceola Commissioners have been reviewing the new contract closely.

In a recent special meeting of the Board’s Committee of the Whole, commissioners met with MSU educator Jerry Lindquist to discuss a proposed agreement for services.

Discussion was extensive, with commissioners looking over every aspect of staffing, programs, and considering where the dollars would be coming from in support of the same.

While all commissioners generally agreed the county wanted to, and in fact needed to continue a close relationship with MSUE, they also expressed a need to consider where they could trim the program in order to continue “vital” services.

Commissioners agreed to the basic MSUE Memorandum of Agreement for 2012. This retains the services of one full time Extension educator, (Lindquist), one full time support staff, and the full time 4H Coordinator, with additional positions still under consideration. Recommendation carried.

Other staffing positions were left open for future discussion — including that of economic development coordinator Dan Massey.

“We took definite action on some aspects of the contract, and needed to leave other parts of the agreement unresolved at this time,’ reported Board chair Dave Brooks.

“We will continue discussion at our next meeting.

“In the meantime, we approved a contract for some of the key positions and services.”

When discussion of the need or lack thereof of a full-time economic development coordinator, Lindquist pointed out to the Board that having a person in this role in Osceola County has brought in “ ... over $4.4 million in grants since he began approximately 10 years ago.”

Ideas with regard to Massey’s position were exchanged.

One of the problems facing the Board is that if Massey is retained as economic development coordinator through MSUE, he will not work exclusively for Osceola County, and the counties participation in his employment will be greater with less “ ... bang for our buck.”

“We would be paying more money for Dan Massey’s employed position, but would at the same time actually be getting less time dedicated to our county,” explained Brooks.

“He would be working for the larger MSUE district, not just in Osceola County.

“We didn’t think this was necessarily cost effective for our investment.”

But, Brooks and the commissioners have decided to try is to create a contract with Massey — outside the framework of an agreement with MSUE.

“We are trying to put together an offer for Mr. Massey that would make him a full-time county employee,” continued Brooks.

“This would keep him doing what he is presently doing, but under a new job description.

“Whether we are able to come to terms on this is still completely up in the air.

“It’s hard to compete with the MSUE package.”

In effect, and depending on how discussions on the economic development program spin out, commissioners hope and expect that MSUE programs, personnel, and services will not change much — if at all — in the near future.

“We don’t want to see anything change in any substantial way,” said Brooks.

“We really are interested in keeping things pretty much the way they are without needing to add too much more to the funding.

“We want to maintain our relationship with MSUE, but now is not the time or place to look at dramatic budget increases.

“It’s important that we keep programs such as 4H and the Extension Service up and running.”

Brooks noted he expected the entire issue would be resolved by during the next Board meeting to be held June 21.