In a county where agriculture remains the biggest industry, even 4-H isn't getting sacred-cow status as Carroll County officials ponder budget cuts to erase a projected $5 million budget shortfall.
One of many cuts proposed for the 1996-1997 budget is the elimination of up to $139,548 for 4-H and home economics programs provided by the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service.
Outraged supporters of 4-H warn that if the county pulls its money from the program, agriculture will be hurt because 4-H helps promote farming careers.
"We pay a lot of taxes," said Holly Fleming, a Manchester hog farmer and former 4-H member who now serves on the county's Extension Advisory Council. "Agriculture is still the No. 1 industry in Carroll County. We want some return on our tax money."
County officials said the criticism is premature since the county commissioners have not made decisions on next year's budget.
"It is one of many recommendations," said Cindy Parr, county spokeswoman. "Just because they recommend it doesn't mean this is what the commissioners will do. Five million dollars is a lot of money, and no stone is being left unturned."
Carroll County budget an alysts have suggested that 4-H could be funded through dues and donations.
"Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have been doing that for a long time," Ms. Parr said.
Ms. Fleming and other 4-H supporters say that could keep some students from participating. Some of the 50 clubs in Carroll charge dues, but many are free. A total of 1,234 county youngsters participate in farm, art and other community activities that culminate in a county 4-H fair every summer.
Ms. Fleming said the first problem with the staff recommendation is that it presumes the program can be easily divided into 4-H, home economics and agriculture.
The extension service's mission crosses all three areas, Ms. Fleming said. She said 4-H activities center on agriculture and home economics but are geared toward youth.
In addition to the 1,234 4-H members, another 5,214 students in Carroll County schools take part in educational programs on disability awareness and plant science offered by the extension service, she said.
Moreover, the home economics agent of the extension service gives free advice on issues such as food safety and nutrition for about 1,000 residents each year. About 150 families also sought financial counseling from the extension service, Ms. Fleming said.