At the Sept. 4 meeting of Oneida County’s joint labor relations and employee services committee, the future of the University of Wisconsin Extension Services in the county was discussed at length.
By the end of that discussion, it was determined there needed to be more information gathered regarding a possible relocation of the UWEX program from the terminal basement at the Rhinelander 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 purpose for that was, essentially, to continue work on putting together a UWEX “package” for county board consideration by the time its budget hearings are conducted next month and the county’s 2020 budget finalized and adopted 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 at that meeting. “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.”
At Monday’s meeting of the county board’s funding opportunities subcommittee, Hintz provided an update on where things were and summarized what had occurred at the LRES meeting a few days prior.
He said he’d since spoken to Oneida County supervisor Bob Mott, chairman of the county board’s Conservation and UWEX committee, about what he felt that “complete package” 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 about the proposed relocation to Nicolet College.
“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 at its October budget hearings 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 because of “budget constraints.”
“We’ve had a wage study done and it’s estimated the county is ... behind the market about $800,000,” he said and further explained what the county can do within its tax levy limits.
One of those areas to fall within the parameter of levy limits is the UWEX.
Toward the end of Monday’s meeting, in the public comment section, the comments were part of that “selling” of what UWEX does for Oneida County Hintz alluded to earlier.
There were two speakers in the public comment portion of the meeting and both were there on behalf of the UWEX program in the county.
First up was Myles Alexander, community, natural resources and economic development educator for the UWEX and Oneida County.
“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 said.
Alexander made available some correspondence including letters from the county’s forestry and recreation department, the Minocqua Public Library and the Three Lakes Community Foundation.
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 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 said.
He said that conference, hosted by the UWEX Center for Economic Development, would be looking at the regional economy which he said “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 said.
Next up was Three Lakes resident John Stauner, a board member of the TLCF.
“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.”
Stauner said the first few years of the foundation’s existence has been 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 said last winter wasn’t an easy one for Three Lakes, with the loss of two of its 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 go 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 the start of a new initiative with the UWEX.
“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 that event is viewed as way to bring the community of Three Lakes together and develop what he described as a “shared vision” for Three Lakes.
“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 were at the meeting to advocate for continued funding by Oneida County 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.”
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]