Are McLean County Republicans Trying To Eliminate Cooperative Extension, 4-H?

Democrats cry foul as McLean County Republicans consider temporary budget cut.

BLOOMINGTON, ILLINOIS, August 2, 2022 — Some Democrats are crying foul as McLean County Board Republicans consider a temporary budget reduction for Cooperative Extension. Republican Board member and Extension Committee member Jim Soeldner spoke about the issue this morning during Coffee & Conversation at the Republican headquarters.

Mr. Soeldner explained that the local unit of the U of I Cooperative Extension provides services to the citizens and youth of McLean, Livingston, and Woodford Counties and noted that the three County Boards are each responsible for part of the Cooperative Extension budget. Soeldner stated, "In the past, Extension has requested $500,000-$550,000 for their annual budget from a tax levy. They currently have a $2.7 million surplus and a $1.3 million yearly budget."

According to Soeldner, the current surplus is enough to operate the local unit of Cooperative Extension with its 30 employees for about two years without significant additional funding. While the Extension Service would like local units to hold 1.5 years of funding in escrow in the event of a state-level cut in funding or a failure to pass a state budget, any such funding cuts would come from a Democrat-controlled legislature. Soeldner also noted that several posts on the Democrat Party Facebook page are misconstruing the situation. He emphasized the McLean County Republicans are not trying to eliminate or even cut back Cooperative Extension as a result of proposed cuts in appropriations for next year. All three Republican members of the Cooperative Extension Committee are staunch supporters of Cooperative Extension and former 4-H members. Soeldner quipped, “The situation is much like a school board asking for more money when they already have more than enough money to operate.”

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Nonetheless, three Republican McLean County Board members on the 6-member Cooperative Extension Committee believe this year's budget request is too high and want to reduce it temporarily. The local Extension program receives only part of its annual funding from the three counties. The rest comes from state coffers. Republicans want to keep local real estate taxes from ballooning out of control as fiscal conservatives.

Mr. Soeldner explained, “Each of the past four years, we have asked Extension to spend that surplus down, and each year it has grown larger, except for FY21 due to COVID 19. For FY23, we are recommending a levy of $30,000...10% of the $300,000 they are seeking” to bring the budget back into line. “In no way will this affect any current programs, 4-H and the county fair included,” he emphasized.

While some area Democrats are already crying foul, the appropriation process has not yet run its course. Following recommendations by the Cooperative Extension Committee, the recommendation will have to pass the McLean County Board's Finance Committee in September, and the County Board in October before any binding decision about funding is reached. “Besides,” Soeldner quipped, “this money comes from real estate taxes. A one-year reduction in appropriations is a way to keep the taxes down.”

The appropriation level for the local 3-county unit of Cooperative Extension will be reconsidered in 2023 and increased as appropriate. “Next year, we will increase county funding as appropriate to keep Cooperative Extension fully operational,” Soeldner stated. “They have enough money right now and if they need more in the future, we’ll give it to them.”