The Sedgwick County Extension Center is not just about plants, bugs and homemaking, supporters told county commissioners Thursday: It’s about people.
Without the center’s programs and professional staff, children in 4-H programs at Park and Greiffenstein elementary schools might not learn about wildlife and the environment, and homeowners might not know what to use in their landscaping plans to increase the value of their property, supporters said.
The extension center faces an 18 percent, or nearly $177,000, funding cut from the county next year. Several people urged commissioners to not dip as deeply into the center’s budget, which was cut 12 percent this year.
They were among residents to speak out about the county’s 2013 budget. County Manager William Buchanan has recommended a $408 million budget that eliminates a $9.3 million deficit by the end of next year.
He told commissioners during the second of three public hearings that they are in the “unenviable position” of determining which services the county provides are necessary and critical.
Commissioners heard from supporters of the extension center, the zoo, senior centers, the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch and the Child Advocacy center.
The board heard the most from extension.
“4-H teaches children to be givers instead of takers,” said Diana Dorland, representing the 4-H program at Park Elementary School.
Dorland said the before- and after-school program there, as well as a summer camp, has reached children from low-income families and taught them how to “put flags up, pick up trash, take care of our wildlife area. It gives them a sense of belonging and a sense of being responsible.”
4-H programs, she said, teach character and leadership skills so children “become an asset instead of a detriment to the community.”
Doug Scheer, a Garden Plain resident who works at the Farmers Cooperative Elevator Company, said 4-H teaches children “valuable skills they can use in the workforce.”
Working with livestock, they learn about budgeting, animal husbandry, recordkeeping, nutrition, safety and teamwork, he said.
“On the horticulture side of it, they learn about gardening and learn to produce food. A lot of people today think food comes from the grocery store, and that is not the case,” Scheer said.
4-H also teaches children to be good public speakers and leaders, he said.
“Our children have lost enough in the last few years with all the budget cuts in the schools,” Scheer noted.
Charlene Schneider, a master gardener for 12 years who is in her second two-year term on the Extension Council’s executive board, said master gardeners have created and maintained projects throughout the county at no cost to taxpayers. Those include the Sedgwick County Arboretum, a demonstration garden at the extension center, a nature trail at Sedgwick County Park and gardens in front of the courthouse.
The Hugo Wall School at Wichita State University compiled a list of places that provide similar services as the extension center, but Schneider noted that none of them did the work she listed. She asked commissioners to reinstate $100,000 to the center’s budget.
“We have never spent money foolishly,” Schneider said.
Commissioners also heard from other groups facing budget cuts.
“We all know that cuts need to be made, but senior centers aren’t where they should be made,” said Eleanor Underwood, who serves on the advisory board for the Derby Senior Center.
Senior centers are facing a 10 percent budget cut, or $66,300.
Underwood spoke of one senior whose health benefited greatly from line dancing classes, which helped her become mobile again. And she told commissioners about an elderly woman who “wanted to die, too,” after her husband passed away. She started coming to the senior center and regained her will to live, Understood said.
Haysville resident Wayne Larsen told commissioners that he lives across the street from the senior center there and chose his apartment’s location deliberately.
“It’s like a new family,” he said of the people he’s met at the center.
Scott Ochs, president of the Sedgwick County Zoological Society, which partners with the county, expressed concern about a cut of 5 percent, or $256,000. Ochs told commissioners zoo officials “recognize the difficult decisions that you, the elected leaders, have in juggling the multiple priorities.”
But he said this year’s cut of 6.6 percent puts “the zoo in great financial difficulty. We firmly believe we are running as efficiently as we possibly can.”
The public has a third and final chance to comment on the proposed budget at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the commission’s chambers on the third floor of the courthouse, 525 N. Main. Residents also can comment online at www.sedgwickcounty.org.
Commissioners will vote on the budget at their weekly meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday.