4-H member appeals to city council

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Twelve-year-old Nadya Romero, a member of the Enterprise for Progress 4-H club and vice president of the 4-H County Council, stood before the mayor and city council at its last meeting and asked for help. On behalf of more than 200 Socorro youth enrolled in 4-H, Romero appealed to the city to help fund a 4-H agent position slated to be cut at the end of the fiscal year by the New Mexico Cooperative Extension Service. Backing Romero up in city council chambers were two dozen 4-H youth, parents and leaders.

The Extension Service announced in January that due to budgetary shortfalls, it will be forced to cut the Socorro Extension Office down to one agent, from two. Effective June 30, Socorro County will no longer have a 4-H agent. Although the State Legislature was able to find $500,000 to help the Extension Service, the decision is still in effect. If Socorro wants to keep a full-time 4-H agent, it will have to figure out a way to fund the position.

Romero asked the city council to work with the county to keep both agent positions.

“Without both, I feel it would be detrimental to our organization,” she said.

Mayor Ravi Bhasker said he would have to see if there was any room in the city budget.

“We agree it’s a great program for the kids and should be continued,” Bhasker said.

County Extension Agent Tom Dean said he’s grateful that the Extension Service did get some funding from the Legislature, but that it will only serve to “stop the bleeding.” The $500,000 will prevent the Extension Service from having to make even more cuts and consolidate some county offices into regional offices, but is not enough to restore positions already slated to be cut.

The budget estimate to keep his office open with only one agent and a secretary is $120,000. Keeping a second agent on board, which Dean said is a master’s level position, would require about another $69,000 in salary, benefits and program costs.

“In the past, the 4-H position has been covered with grants and other ways. Although the county helps support the extension program, it has never had to directly support that position,” Dean said.

This year, the county has contributed $46,600 to the county extension program, and the city has contributed $8,000. If both the city and county match their contributions next year, the county extension office will still be short about $60,000 of what it would take to fund the full-time 4-H agent position.

“There’s the question of whether the city and the county can get together and support a full time 4-H agent, but that’s kind of pie-in-the-sky,” Dean said Friday. “I’m assuming that’s not really realistic.”

Teresa Dean is currently the 4-H agent. She’s been offered another position in the Cooperative Extension Service, in another county. Tom Dean is her husband, so if Teresa is transferred elsewhere, it’s likely Socorro will lose them both.

There is another option on the table that might be more within the realm of possibility. Instead of a 4-H agent, Dean is hoping the city and county will be able to find a way to at least support a three-quarter time program assistant, for about $21,000. Although it wouldn’t allow the Deans to stay in Socorro, Dean said there would at least be someone available to help the volunteer 4-H leaders have what they need in order to keep the program going for the kids.

“Can the extension office function with just one agent? Probably,” Dean said. “But no one person is going to be able to continue the level of service two agents have been able to provide.”

Even though Socorro County has a small population, it’s currently ranked No. 11 out of 33 counties in terms of the total number of 4-H youth enrolled in the program, Dean said. It’s ranked No. 1 in “special unit” numbers, for programs delivered to local youth who are not enrolled in 4-H, and No. 9 in the state for programs delivered in the schools.

“The first thing that’s really going to be hit is the ag producers, because that one agent will be having to run the 4-H program too,” Dean said. “The kids are always the priority.”

Dean said he’s kind of losing hope of being able to stay here, and has hung a “For Sale By Owner” sign on his fence.

“At this point we’re just fighting to keep 4-H going in Socorro,” he said. “We need to make sure our 4-H families know that they need to be fighting to keep at least a program assistant for the 4-H program.”

Dean said it’s not the agents in the office that make the 4-H program successful.

“It’s successful because of families across the county supporting the agents in what they do,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Garbage Pick-Up

Also speaking in the public forum section of the city council meeting was Greg Jewczuk of Gibson Circle, who asked the council

why city residents were charged the full amount for trash pick-up for two days last year that garage didn’t get picked up. Jewczuk said when he called the city to inquire, he was told “we don’t pro-rate.”

The two missed pick-ups last year were due to weather conditions, when the garbage trucks couldn’t get into a few areas of the city without the danger of sliding into parked cars or tearing up muddy roads.

Bhasker said the monthly rate charged by the city was not for making up a certain number of pick ups, but for disposal.

“If we didn’t pick it up one week, we picked up two weeks worth the next time,” added City Clerk Pat Salome. “We still disposed of two weeks of garbage.”

Jewczuk said that made sense, but he felt he needed to inquire.

In Other Business

  • The council approved a zone change for Bob & Jenny farmer that would allow them to keep horses on their property on Spring Street.
  • The council ratified an agreement with Dennis Engineering to continue to act as the city’s engineering consultant for Community Development Block Grant projects.
  • Water Superintendent Lloyd Martinez reported that the arsenic treatment plants were back on schedule, after delays caused earlier by weather, with the backwash tank and foundation for the building at Socorro Springs completed, and walls going up on the building at Industrial Well.
  • The council approved hiring a new officer for the Socorro Police Department. Eddie Garcia comes to Socorro with 8 1/2 years of experience working at the state penitentiary in Los Lunas.

 


-- Email the author at sbarteau@dchieftain.com.