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4-Hers say program is here to stay

A private foundation kicked in $10,000 to keep the Washington County 4-H program afloat through 2010.

Another $22,000 is coming from 4-H member dues.

A livestock auction generated $5,000 and the "kiss the cow" contest at the county fair raked in $700.

With donations and fundraisers yielding cash contributions large and small, the county's 4-H program will continue for another year, a supporter predicted after seeing that half of the needed funds have been pledged or collected.

"We still have got to have a little help, there's no doubt about it, but I think we'll get there," said Dan Dolan of Woodbury, a leader of the Save Washington County 4-H group. "I have no problem with 2010; it'll come."

Dolan said supporters have raised $52,000 of the $110,000 needed to staff a 4-H program coordinator, part-time worker and summer intern and to cover administrative costs.

The fundraising effort started when it became clear the Washington County Board would cut county support to 4-H, citing the need to trim $3.2 million in spending.

Commissioners in March moved to terminate county funding of 4-H Youth Development staffing effective Sept. 15. On Aug. 18 the county board finalized a plan to keep 4-H staffing in place through the end of the year, so long as they are given private funds to do so.

County board members approved a measure to send a letter to the University of Minnesota asking that the county's contract with the university's Extension Service, which provides 4-H coordinators, end Dec. 31. The Washington County 4-H Federation will direct funds to the county, which in turn will pay the university through the end of the year.

A numbers game

There are about 525 kids in Washington County 4-H chapters, Dolan said. There were another 225 members, but they belonged to five low-income sites around the county, including in Cottage Grove, that were cut because members do not pay dues and the program could not financially support the membership.

Fundraisers had planned to approach cities within the county for donations to keep 4-H staffing in place, but that plan was stymied when the state auditor's office said municipalities do not have the authority to make such donations. It cited an attorney general's opinion on the issue.

"The assumption is that a gift of public funds to an individual or private entity necessarily serves a private rather than public purpose," an auditor's letter reads.

Dolan said supporters estimated they could have raised $30,000 from cities.

"It was a major setback," he said of the announcement.

However, one city still plans to donate funds to the program, Dolan said, refusing to name the city other than to say it is not Woodbury or Cottage Grove.

County officials confirmed that private funds and donations will be needed for 4-H staffing to remain in place next year.

"If we're going to enter into a memorandum of agreement for 2010, we have to have that based on private funding rather than county funding," Lowell Johnson, county public health director, told commissioners last week.

Washington County joins two other Minnesota counties in not funding a 4-H program, Dolan said. Cook County's program folded for lack of participation and Ramsey County uses federal money, not county tax revenue, to support 4-H.