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October 20, 2019

9/14/2019 7:30:00 AM
Wagons circling around Oneida County UW-Extension program

Brian Jopek
Lakeland Times Reporter

The future of University of Wisconsin-Extension services in Oneida County has been a topic of discussion among a number of county committees of late.

On Sept. 4, the county's labor relations and employee services committee concluded more information was needed regarding a possible relocation of the UWEX program from the basement at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport to Nicolet College.

The committee also voted to give UWEX 60 days notice of non-renewal of the county's contracts with UWEX agents.

The non-renewal is not final, however, as a "package" of information on the Extension is being assembled for county board consideration when budget hearings begin next month and the county's 2020 budget is finalized in November.

"I think what we should do as a committee or a county is take a comprehensive look at UW-Extension," Oneida County board chairman and LRES committee member Dave Hintz said. "Including the relocation, the staffing, the mileage. Put it all together so we understand what we're getting into or what we want to get into ... we look at it as one complete package."

When the county's funding opportunities subcommittee met Monday, Hintz provided an update on where things stand in terms of the county's relationship with UWEX. He also summarized what had occurred at the LRES meeting a few days earlier.

He explained that he spoke to Oneida County supervisor Bob Mott, chairman of the county's Conservation and UWEX committee, about what the "complete package"on the UW-Extension should contain.

"Selling their own good deeds," Hintz said. "What they do. Why we should have UW-Extension in Oneida County."

The second item he said should be information about the proposed relocation to Nicolet College.

"(Explain) why that's a good idea," Hintz said. "And the costs, including the move and related costs. There's an open issue about the airport funding. We presently pay $40,000 a year to the airport for UW-Extension space. If they move, what happens to that $40,000? Is Oneida County required to pay it? Are we off the hook? Can we share it with the city? That's an open issue."

The third item Hintz said he told Mott he'd like to see in a UWEX package for county board consideration is cost-sharing.

"Oneida County pays for a portion of UW-Extension and a significant portion of that service is also paid for by the state," he said.

Hintz then explained to members of the audience it was going to be difficult for a 2020 draft budget to be put together due to "budget constraints."

"We've had a wage study done and it's estimated the county is ... behind the market about $800,000," he said, adding that the county is also constrained by tax levy limits.

One of the areas that falls within the parameter of levy limits is the UWEX.

Toward the end of Monday's meeting, two guests shared their thoughts as to the value of the Extension.

UWEX advocates

First up was Myles Alexander, community, natural resources and economic development educator with Oneida County UWEX.

"You're talking about how you're in process of considering things, we're in process of following instruction from our oversight committee to be prepared for our (county budget) hearing in October," he explained.

Alexander made available to the committee some correspondence including letters from the county's forestry and recreation department, the Minocqua Public Library and the Three Lakes Community Foundation (TLCF).

Also provided to the committee were copies of a resolution passed by the TLCF related to community development work, a letter from the principal at Central Intermediate School which Alexander said was about the food and nutrition education provided to students at the school, a letter from the Master Gardeners of The North "and two families involved in University of Wisconsin-Extension."

"I'll also point out that because of my activity in the county, we are having a Northwoods Economic Development Conference, a summit, on the 23rd of this month," Alexander added.

The conference, to be hosted by the UWEX Center for Economic Development, will focus on the regional economy, he said, adding that the event "would not happen if I had not been here."

"Also, we would not be looking forward to a 'Design Wisconsin' team visit in Three Lakes next September, which is bringing tens of thousands of dollars of value of expertise to that community and the larger county," Alexander added.

Next up was Three Lakes resident John Stauner, a TLCF board member.

"With me today, are six other board members of the foundation from Three Lakes," he said, referring to others seated behind him.

Stauner said the foundation is a relatively new organization, having begun in late 2014.

"Our goal, our mission, is really to enhance and support those opportunities that make Three Lakes a better place," he explained.

Stauner said the first few years of the foundation's existence have been spent engaging in programs to learn more about Three Lakes.

"Act as a unifying force within the community and assess its needs and opportunities," he said. "We've done this in cooperation with UW- Extension through some community conversations and also through a community forum that has been very successful in the past."

Stauner noted that last winter wasn't an easy one for Three Lakes, with the loss of two longtime businesses, The Oneida Village Inn and the Three Lakes Diner, to fire.

"They really changed the character of our downtown," he said. "After that, as a board, as a community foundation, we got together and said 'This is really a launching point for our town' and we need to treat the challenges that we face as opportunities."

Stauner said that led to a new initiative.

"It's called 'Design Wisconsin,' which Myles just mentioned," he said. "It's an event where we have approximately 20 Extension agents from across the state come in and hold a series of community meetings with us."

Stauner said the event is viewed as way to bring the community of Three Lakes together and develop what he described as a "shared vision" for its future.

"A lot of energy and a lot of work has already gone into this process," he said. "There's a lot of excitement about what the potential of this could do. There are other communities in Wisconsin that have done this and have been very successful with it."

Stauner said he and the other TLCF board members came to the meeting to advocate for continued funding of the UWEX service.

"We wanted to point out the example of how they impact the county and specifically, in our case, Three Lakes," he said. "Therefore, we did resolve to urge the county board to maintain and fully fund its partnership with the UW-Extension."

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