It didn’t take long for 2011 to produce its first surprise of the year for Michigan State University Extension. On January 3, the Kalkaska County Board of Commissioners, consisting of three incumbents and four newly elected commissioners, took the unusual step of voting on a budget matter during their organizational meeting for the new year. In that budget action, they voted to eliminate funding for MSUE and for the Conservation District, effective immediately. The action required a second hearing of the proposal, which took place last night, January 12, at a very well attended board meeting in Kalkaska. Patrick Cudney, coordinator for MSUE District 3, worked over the past week to determine if the board would consider a revised budget proposal from MSUE and they agreed to consider it. Pat took the opportunity to develop a budget that would reflect the situation with the new Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) that we are drafting, having received input from commissioners and administrative officers across the state. The proposal incorporated funding from the county at the same rate that the assessment would be in the new MoA, along with continued contribution of space for our county office and funding for at least one support staff person in the county office.
With those reductions, the board voted last night to adopt the revised budget and to restore funding for MSUE for this year. In short, MSUE will continue to be present in Kalkaska County and will continue to provide programs from our four program institutes to Kalkaska County residents. Without a doubt, the success of this process resulted from Patrick’s leadership and MSUE’s willingness to work with the county to help address serious budget matters. Equally important, stakeholders contributed to our success by voicing their support – prior to the meeting and publicly during the meeting – for MSUE to commissioners.
This is our first challenge of the new year, but it won’t be the last. Still, it’s heartening to come away from this with an endorsement for the changes we are making in our MoA with counties, and this helps us to prepare for challenges that we may face from other counties in the year ahead. As is always the case, a budget reduction is difficult, and in this case it means one support staff position in the county office will be eliminated. In today’s economic climate, a job loss stings even more, and we may face further reductions of positions in the months ahead. In this and in future cases, we will do all we can to be supportive of those whose positions are eliminated. For now, it’s reassuring to know that we will continue to serve the residents of Kalkaska County. And a year from now, I remain hopeful that we’ll be able to say that about Michigan’s other 82 counties.