"There would be a huge impact here in the community,” says Peggy Zettel, 4-H Coordinator and Snap-Ed Instructor for Ogemaw County MSU Extension.
The clock is ticking for a Northern Michigan MSU Extension office…
A county decision could shut their doors for good.
Last year, the Ogemaw County MSU Extension was one of 20 departments facing cuts in an attempt to balance the county budget.
Voters rejected a way to avoid the cuts.
Now, the extension office could be forced to close.
The Headlee Override failed in August, then again in November.
The county underwent $1.2 million in cuts, including to 9-1-1 and STING investigations amongst many others.
The budget pulled $60,000 from the MSU Extension.
9&10’s Cody Boyer and photojournalist Jeff Blakeman sat down with commissioners and the extension office.
The Ogemaw County MSU Extension has helped 4-H groups and farmers for 100 years.
They say a standalone millage could help them stay afloat, but that’s up to the Ogemaw County Board of Commissioners.
"Without this millage, we will need to close the extension office,” says Kelley Hiemstra, MSU Extension District Coordinator in Ogemaw County.
It’s a service that might be saved by a special election in May that costs $35,000.
The struggle to preserve it grew longer after a millage that could have brought in more county money failed.
"The county did not have money to fund all of the things that they generally funded through the budget, so they asked the citizen’s for a Headlee millage and that failed in August,” Hiemstra says. "We asked the county to allow us to go for an individual millage, just a standalone millage and that was for the November election. They felt that they needed to keep everyone together in one budget and one millage ballot question and again in November that failed."
Hiemstra says they are able to operate for now, but they may be on borrowed time.
"Michigan State University Extension thought it was important enough for the citizens and for us to continue, even without those county dollars, and give us some time to look at how to get those dollars,” Hiemstra says. "For every county dollar that is put towards this extension, we bring in about four dollars of state federal dollars into this county."
“I work with the kids, I work with families,” Zettel says. “It would be huge, huge."
Otherwise, 4-H youth programs, nutritional education, senior and child care and agriculture could suffer throughout the county.
"I’m here for the community, here for the people of this community and that’s what these programs are for,” Zettel says. “If they are gone, where are these people going to learn?”
Peggy Zettel is the Extension’s 4-H coordinator and nutrition instructor.
"Just going into the schools, alone, the impact the program has made, I should say, on what these kids are learning is tremendous,” Zettel says. “I’ve had kids come up to me at the fair and parents come up to me at the fair and say you changed the way I eat."
The extension could also lose their beef and dairy educator.
"This is a very heavily agricultural county,” says Phil Durst, Senior Extension Beef and Dairy Educator. “In fact, dairy alone represents over $30 million of receipts of income for dairy annually in this county every year. Now $30 million is pretty major business in a county like this. $30 million…if we lose the extension in this county, I can’t work with the people of this county. We lose the capability of working and helping those farmers to be successful in their business."
Durst says this comes during an economically trying time for dairy farmers.
"Dairy farmers are under an economic crunch and there is now a lot of stress in farms because of that,” Durst says. "The work that I do is to help farmers to get through that stress, to manage through it and to be successful."
"It’s got to have a majority or a super majority of the votes,” says Bruce Reetz, Ogemaw County Commissioner. “We’ve got five commissioners. Four have to approve the special election. I’m going to vote for the election because I believe in 4-H and stuff. Our main problem is we’ve voted these cuts in and we want to stick with them."
"We need to make this happen,” Zettel says. “We need to get this community to understand how important this millage is for this community and get them to go out there and voice their concerns."
A group of volunteers is also raising money to try and help fund the special election.
A decision must be made by January 26th.
"We’ve had a partnership with over 100 years here and that’s on the line,” Hiemstra says. "We’re down to the wire so we really want those residents to come out and have their voices heard."