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Budget cuts could eliminate 4-H

ALBANY -- Under the University of Georgia's Fiscal Year 2011 Additional Reductions plan, all of Georgia's 4-H clubs would be eliminated and the state's 94 4-H agents terminated.

Funded by UGA, the statewide program that develops life skills in leadership, communication, citizenship and decision-making skills annually reaches more than 156,000 young people ages 9 to 19.

"It's devastating to even think about it," said Anthony Jones, Dougherty County's Extension Agent and the county 4-H club's former coordinator. "With all the gang activity, gang violence and violence in general out there, this would really hurt the youth in Georgia to not be a part of a solid enrichment program."

Jones retired as full-time 4-H coordinator last March after serving more than 25,000 Dougherty County school children through the Extension Office's 4-H program since 1985. Interim Dougherty County Extension Coordinator James Morgan said more than 1,500 Dougherty youths are currently enrolled in 4-H.

Morgan said Georgia schools have the largest 4-H participation in the country, and the Rock Eagle 4-H Center in Eatonton is the largest in the country with 1,428 acres of forested land, including a 110-acre lake.

The proposed cuts would require 116 immediate layoffs, the closure of five 4-H facilities across the state and would net a savings of $6,304,861.

"A lot of these kids go off to college and get these nice positions and jobs, but their leadership skills started in 4-H," Morgan said.

Eliminating 4-H was part of the University System of Georgia's proposed additional $300 million budget reductions for FY 2011 over the $265 million in cuts the system had already made for Gov. Perdue's FY 2011 recommended budget. The 35 University System of Georgia schools were directed to make the cuts at the Senate and House Joint Budget Appropriations Hearings Feb. 24.

Albany State University was projected to make $3,657,949 in cuts and eliminate 46 positions. ASU will hold a special town hall meeting at 3 p.m. today in its HPER Gymnasium to discuss the cuts. Albany State President Everette Freeman and other administrators will answer questions at the event, which is open to ASU students, faculty, staff, alumni and other supporters.

Under the proposed cuts, Darton College could lose four jobs and $2,646,848; Americus' Georgia Southwestern State University may lose 18 positions and $2,101,235; Tifton's Abraham Baldwin College could lose 34.5 jobs and $2,377,513; Bainbridge College may lose 17 positions and $1,558,149; and Valdosta State University could lose 22 jobs and $8,898,836.

"These plans should be viewed as informational and not as recommendations for several reasons," University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll B. Davis Jr. wrote in a letter to Senate and House chairmen Seth Harp and Earl Ehrhart, respectively, of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education Monday. "First, we continue to hope that it will not be necessary to reduce the budget of the University System by an additional $300 million. Second, we strongly believe that cuts of this nature, if implemented, would severely compromise our ability to provide the educated populace that is necessary for the continued success of this state."

In addition to eliminating all of the state's popular 4-H programming, the University of Georgia cuts would close half of UGA's County Extension offices, eliminating 169 positions for a $5 million savings. Morgan said there are 157 state Extension Offices, including one in downtown Albany, and that the cuts would shutter 78-79 offices around the state. It would also close research facilities such as the C.M. Stripling Irrigation Research Park in Camilla.

"If we close half of our county offices, we would stand to lose half of the county funding," said Ken Lewis, Southwest District director of Cooperative Extension in Tifton, in an e-mail. "County funding is $25 million statewide. If we lost half (because there would be no offices in half the counties), we stand to lose $12.5 million. This is more in losses than the state would be saving."

According to its Web site, the UGA Extension Office's mission "is to extend lifelong learning to Georgia citizens through unbiased, research-based education in agriculture, the environment, communities, youth and families." One of its most popular programs is its master gardener classes.

"All that information would stop if the state stops funding the specialists because we wouldn't be the liaisons for the community," said Morgan, a Clemson University graduate who has worked in Georgia extension offices for 10 years. "It's kind of scary knowing I might not have a job since I've always been in extension. This is the only job I know since I graduated from college. ... This could be something terrible or career threatening."

Doug Patten, senior vice president of medical affairs for Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, said the proposed cuts won't have any impact on the hospital's current partnership with the Medical College of Georgia.

"The activities that provided undergraduate medical education are not targeted in the proposed reductions," Patten said. "The $5.9 million that was budgeted for additional graduate education programs is at risk, but that was not money that was designed for any of the three campuses, and that's Albany, Athens and Savannah.

"While this does not cut any existing programs, the long-term effects could add to the physician shortage across Georgia, especially in primary care specialists."

Albany Herald Information Technology Director Bill Strickland contributed to this story.