Minn. Extension Supplemental Nutrition Education Program to reduce staff 40 percent due to reductions in federal funds

Last week’s regularly scheduled Yellow Medicine County Board meeting time was moved from morning to afternoon then reconvened following a dinner recess to accommodate constituents interested in turning out for the county’s annual Truth in Taxation hearing.
Intended to provide county constituents an opportunity to offer input  toward the determination of a county’s forthcoming spending and taxing levels, the number of individuals seated in the board room was a resounding, and not annually uncommon, zero.
Despite the sparse crowd, YMC Finance Director Michelle May combed through the budget while YMC Property Public Service Director Janel Timm and Assessor Connie Erickson sat in the gallery patiently awaiting questions that never came.
Having set a preliminary budget of $16.8 million and a preliminary tax levy bump of 3.42 percent in September, May explained that commissioners are now preparing to set their final budget and levy, which must be approved by the close of their next board meeting this coming Tuesday, December 17. Per state statute, the levy can be lowered but not raised.
Given that the county is looking at having to make up roughly $500,000 in out-of-their-hands revenue reductions and expenditure increase – which alone would require a six percent levy increase to offset – May told commissioners that they could either adopt a levy of 3.42 percent and pay the remainder of the shortfall through the county’s reserve fund, or they could lower the levy and fund an even larger chunk of the budget through reserves.

In other news:
Preceding the evening’s hearing commissioners heard a trio of program updates from local service organizations Country-side Public Health, University of Minnesota Extension and Pact for Families and were informed of a disconcerting trend.
Besides all being scheduled for the board meeting on Tuesday, each of three organizations reported that they were feeling or expecting to feel the effects of significant funding cuts, particularly at the federal level, that would require them to either seek additional county support in the near future or make cuts to services, if they hadn’t already.
The issue was most pressing for the Minnesota Extension nutrition programs as commissioners were informed that, as a result of the American Taxpayer Relief Ac,t Extension’s  SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Education Program) would receive an unexpected 28 percent cut in funding in January.
Extension Regional Director Kathy Schwantes explained that Extension was responding to the cuts by instituting a major restructuring plan that will serve to regionalize the present SNAP-Ed system allowing for a reduction in staff of 40 percent.
 Schwantes said that counties may choose to contract with Extension for additional county-specific services as they do now for 4-H program coordinators and county agriculture educators. Otherwise, the regionalization model will see nutrition educator’s now serving multi-county service areas based on income-eligible populations and free-lunch eligible schools. Yellow Medicine‘s contact will be stationed in Kandiyohi County. Commissioners were perturbed with both news of the cuts and yet another example in which the cost of providing services was being thrust onto counties.
“I hate to see a program changed that dramatically when something was going so good,” said commissioner Gary Johnson.
“You might say its surprising we’ve been maintaining this level of service for this long,”  noted Schwantes.
While far less immediate and specific, both Countryside Public Health Administrator Liz Auch and Pact for Families Director Debb Sheehan conveyed that they too were feeling the impact of reductions.
“Hard changes are coming,” Auch told commissioners, noting that Countryside Public Health would begin the year deficit spending, having drawn down its reserves from a year-and-a-half to six months.
 “We’re looking to up our county contribution request too,” commented Sheehan, who said it was likely that the organization would ask for a $1.50 contribution from counties for each member of their population, up from their long running request of $1 per citizen.