By ABBY SOUZA
The state's estimated $35 billion budget deficit could hit one of the most popular children's programs in the area 4-H.
A 30 percent budget cut for the University of California Cooperative Extension program has been proposed by Gov. Gray Davis.
If the budget is approved, Cooperative Extension offices will close, people will be laid off and programs such as 4-H will be cut. In Tuolumne and Calaveras counties about 2,100 4-Hers would be out in the cold.
The program is open to elementary and high school students 9 to 18.
"If there's no extension program, there's no 4-H program," said Jay Norton, Tuolumne County farm adviser.
Norton, who attended a recent meeting of the North Coast and Mountain region of the UC Cooperative Extension program, was updated on the proposed cuts and what they mean to county programs.
"Everything is on the table," he said.
The cooperative program has farm, 4-H, nutrition, family and consumer science advisers in more than 50 county offices across the state. Both Tuolumne and Calaveras counties have offices with eight and seven employees, respectively.
"We're looking at layoffs," Norton said.
Calaveras County Farm Adviser Ken Churches agreed.
"I don't see any other way," Churches said. "There isn't any fat to cut. It's going to have to be people."
Both men realize some or all of their staff including their own jobs could be in jeopardy.
A farm adviser's job is to work with the agricultural industry and county government on identifying agricultural opportunities and problems, and work together to resolve them.
"It's frustrating for me, because I am just starting a program," Norton said.
Norton was hired as farm adviser in December.
Both counties also have a staff member each to work on the 4-H youth development program, coordinating activities for children in 4-H clubs and 4-H-sponsored after-school programs. Sue Moore has held this position in Tuolumne County for more than a decade. Calaveras County's 4-H program coordinator Jennifer Mitchell has had her job for 16 years.