Supporters of the county’s 4-H program breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday when the county Board of Supervisors tentatively voted to approve additional funding needed to keep the popular program going.

The county had approved $111,700 for the program and other community services provided by the University of California’s Cooperative Extension (UCCE). But at a board meeting in June, UC officials, stressing that the system has been battered by state cuts, said they needed another $68,000 to continue its presence in the county.

The $180,000 needed for UCCE is 10 to 25 percent less than the historical support levels, UCCE officials note.

Supervisors Joe Centeno, Salud Carbajal, and Doreen Farr supported allocating the money, while supervisors Janet Wolf and Joni Gray were opposed, which failed to lock in the four votes needed for approval.

UCCE has two offices in Santa Barbara County that provide a variety of services, including the 4-H Youth Development program, services for growers through research, disseminating information and improving educational outreach about alternative crops, offering advice and support for local gardeners, and identifying and solving coastal and marine resource problems. At the latest meeting, Chair Wolf, cognizant of the county’s own cash problems, raised concerns about where the requested funds would come. CEO Mike Brown said the county could offset the funding through money accrued from the vacant county agricultural commissioner position, which isn’t slated to be filled until Oct. 1.

She and other supervisors were also concerned about a proposal to close the UCCE’s Santa Barbara County offices and move advisors to the San Luis Obispo and Ventura county offices. Don Klingborg, spokesman for the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, which manages the UCCE program statewide, reassured the board that services and programs would not be reduced.

He added that moving these staff members out of the county would save the county money in the long run.

Additionally, the university would “assume costs associated with the program entirely,” he said.

Still, Wolf held off on a formal vote to approve the new funding until a contract was crafted between county counsel and UCCE officials stipulating that the program’s needs at the county level would be met.

“I’m going to go with this on a leap of faith,” she noted. “I just want to make sure that if we’re going to be spending this extra money, it’s going to be getting what we hoped.”

Shortly before the meeting winded up, Centeno emphasized the importance of the 4-H program. “There’s a residual benefit that we’d get from this,” he said. “We all know we’re embroiled in some terrible gang violence issues, and we have a lot of youngsters that are taking up that behavior. Here’s our opportunity to do some good things for our youngsters.” The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to formally vote on the matter on Aug. 10.

jfoster@syvjournal.com