There’s an organization whose motto is “To make the best better,” where kids can learn to do anything from raising hogs to decorating cakes, but some local money for that organization has dried up.
The historic organization is known as 4-H and has several clubs in St. Clair, Monroe and Madison counties. But St. Clair County eliminated money this year for the local University of Illinois Extension program, which administers 4-H.
For at least the past four fiscal years, St. Clair County has allocated $20,100 to the local U of I Extension unit. This year, however, declining revenues caused the county to eliminate funding, county Director of Administration Debra Moore said. Money from the county can make up as much as 14 percent of the unit’s annual budget, according to Pamela Jacobs, director of the U of I Extension unit that covers Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties.
“We’re disappointed we were unable to fund them,” the county administration director said. “But revenues have declined so drastically, we’re not in a position to fund outside programs.”
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We’re disappointed we were unable to fund them, but revenues have declined so drastically, we’re not in a position to fund outside programs.
St. Clair County Director of Administration Debra Moore
Unfunded state mandates, new tax exemptions and tax benefits for businesses through Tax Increment Financing Districts have contributed to the decline in revenue, Moore said. The result is the elimination or limitation of funding for outside programming.
Far from the 4-H of the past, members of today’s youth organization don’t just learn about agriculture. Members, who range in age from 8 to 18, can learn about film-making, wind energy and robotics, among more than a dozen other focuses.
Though programming has developed over the years, one focus remains the same, says 17-year-old Stephen Schulte, president of a local 4-H club, the Turkey Hill Busy Bees, and St. Clair County’s 4-H Ambassadors President. Schulte is a junior at Mascoutah High School.
“4-H in general allows you to make new friends and communicate with people and learn respect,” Schulte said. “I think it taught me to never make assumptions about new people you meet ... and it gives you a sense of what they experience.”
4-H in general allows you to make new friends and communicate with people and learn respect.
Stephen Schulte, president of 4-H club the Turkey Hill Busy Bees and St. Clair County’s 4-H Ambassadors President
But Schulte, a member since he was 8 years old, says he and other leaders have noticed a decrease in public money while costs to members have increased. On top of the new cut from St. Clair County, the state of Illinois hasn’t provided their portion of money for two years now, says the director of the local U of I Extension unit.
“It just really puts us in a bind to try to figure out how to make things work effectively and keep programs both growing and strong,” Jacobs said. “We want to extend programs, but we’re going to have to take a look at current staff and their responsibilities. There will be some limitations on what we can do.”
In addition to providing 4-H programs for kids, the unit supports a Master Gardener program that generates thousands of pounds of fresh produce for local food pantries during the growing season.
The local unit has already scrapped a part-time program coordinator position leaders planned to fill this year, Jacobs said. The position’s responsibilities will be spread out over the extension’s existing employees, she said, while new or expanded programming will be considered on “a case-by-case basis.”
The unit will continue to receive $50,000 from Madison County and $163,000 from Monroe County in 2018, according to county budgets. Federal grants and local fundraisers add to the unit’s operating budget, Jacobs said.
Despite the money from other counties, members continue to bear the burden of the cuts, says Angie Kinzinger, of Freeburg, leader of the Turkey Hill Busy Bees. All eight of her children are either in 4-H or have graduated from the 4-H program. She says she has watched member costs increase over the years. Members of the local unit pay $20 each year to participate, not including books for their chosen projects. The St. Clair County Farm Bureau helps pay for half the membership cost, but “it can’t offset all the increases in expenses, which falls back to families,” Kinzinger said.
“Families with several kids could be spending a couple hundred dollars if they have to buy a lot of books,” Kinzinger said.
The cost of books used to be covered by the program, she added.
Dave Tiedemann, a grain farmer and St. Clair County board member for District 19, said he’s disappointed in the lack of money for the unit, though he said the cut slipped under his radar before the budget was passed. An illness kept him from voting on the budget and prior to that, he says he was focused on issues surrounding funding for MidAmerica Airport.
“It’s a bad situation all around. Hopefully we find some people to step up and help fund it for the kids,” said Tiedemann, whose children participated in 4-H in St. Clair County.
Kinzinger, the leader of the Busy Bees, says she hopes 4-H continues to find money, for both the children and their parents’ sake.
“My kids have learned things they thought they couldn’t do. For us, it’s an easy way for every kid to follow their own heart’s desire,” Kinzinger said. “For our kids it was just a good activity for us to do that everybody could do, without making us crazy running around all the time.”
The U of I Extension for Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties has offices in Waterloo and Collinsville.
At a glance
- St. Clair County’s fiscal year goes from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, meaning they allocated $20,100 to the local U of I Extension unit up until this year, when funding was cut. The annual funding translates to $10,050 per fiscal year for the unit, whose fiscal year goes from July 1 to June 30. The county’s past allocations, therefore, were always split between the two fiscal years for the unit.