2012-06-07 / Front Page

MSUE to make third millage attempt

MANISTIQUE – The third time might be a charm for officials of the Michigan State University Extension. During a recent Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners meeting, MSUE District Coordinator Jim Lucas revealed the office is once again seeking a millage from county residents.

The MSUE office in Schoolcraft County closed its doors at the end of March 2011, six months after the board of commissioners decided to cease funding the organization’s operations. Since that time, MSUE officials have sought two millages – one in February 2011, and one in November of the same year. Both attempts failed, but the campaign appeared to garner more support the second time around, losing by a mere 73 votes, as compared with the 336 votes it lost by in February.

The support could have been due to the amount of the millage – in February 2011, the organization asked for .42 mills, while in November 2011, they asked for .188. This time around, MSUE is asking for .19 mills for five years, according to Lucas.

The millage is estimated to generate revenues of approximately $62,000 during the first calendar year. MSUE runs a variety of programs throughout the county, including 4-H and nutritional education classes.

While the cost of the running the programs has not changed, Lucas explained using half-time employees and taking advantage of free office space provided by the county would allow for a lower millage rate.

“I’ve been receiving several calls from your agricultural sector, as well as your youth program saying we’d really like you back here,” he explained. “As you’ve heard from our governor, there’s strength in our agricultural sector … the interest in agricultural is also seen locally, in your farmers’ market, which, as I’ve seen, is growing in leaps and bounds.

We need to be back here, and we want to be back here, and we appreciate your support that you’ve given in the past,” Lucas continued. “This proposal here is to try one more time with a millage.”

Commissioner Craig Reiter questioned whether the funds from the millage would stay entirely in Schoolcraft County. He explained, according to his understanding, since MSUE’s recent downsize, the organization now has just one representative, specializing in a particular field, in each county. If that representative is needed in another county, they will travel to provide their services.

“What really gets me is the mileage, because they get paid mileage, to travel,” he said. “And what MSU is doing is taking all the mileage money, and putting it into a pot, and this pot could be allocated wherever is needed; to where the money that came out of Schoolcraft could be spent in other counties.”

Lucas explained the representatives in each county who must travel to provide services get paid mileage directly from MSUE. The only mileage to come from funds allotted by Schoolcraft County would be for purposed such as training, he added.

“If I look at, exactly, how the monies are spent, $31,000 of our annual allocation goes directly to hire a person half-time in each county,” Lucas explained. “That pays their salary, their fringe, and also their travel. Most of their travel … will be within the county.”

Commissioner Dan LaFoille reiterated Lucas’s explanation.

“When I read that, it’s pretty specific – extension services in Schoolcraft County … I think the intent is proper and correct,” he said.

Lucas said having one expert per county has been working well for MSU.

“We’ve been trying to get this to work, and I feel real comfortable with how it’s been working, and I’m real confident with the quality of experts I’ve been seeing,” he said.

He also added MSU millages in Alger and Luce counties have been working well, and there have been no issues with how the funds are spent. These millages, as well as the request for one in Schoolcraft County, will give the organization an opportunity to once again have a presence in the area.

“We’ve done this because of the difficult times that we’ve had. This, I kind of look at as an opportunity to get MSU back into the fold here,” Lucas said. “We have to give a little to get a little, is my opinion.”

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