Multiple generations of youth could be impacted if Santa Barbara County officials elect to eliminate funding for the county’s 4-H youth development program — an action that has been proposed to help close a $10 million budget deficit.

Supporters of 4-H will be closely following budget hearings next month as the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors decides which proposed programs will be cut to fill the gaping financial hole.

More than 4,000 youths would be affected if the board opts to ax funding for the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), which includes about 900 4-H participants ages 5 to 19 and those who benefit from the other agriculture and educational programs, according to Richard Enfield, extension director and 4-H program adviser.

The move would cut $153,000 in funding to the UCCE for the first time since the 1920s, Enfield said.

In addition to children, Enfield said about 200 certified adult 4-H volunteers would be impacted, as well as thousands of others who participate in UCCE agriculture programs in the areas of master gardener, viticulture, nutrition, soil and water management, and more.

The longtime 4-H program adviser told Noozhawk that eliminating UCCE funding would cripple youth and future Santa Barbara County Fairs, where many participants have traditionally displayed their projects and showed off livestock.

“It’s a real concern that the 4-H youth development program would not be present for next year,” Enfield said, noting that the program prepares young adults to be productive members of society. “They have a much higher rate of community volunteering than other young people. The whole goal of 4-H is to build leadership and other life skills.

“Without that money from the county, there can’t be a UC cooperative extension program.”

First District county Supervisor Salud Carbajal said that he and other supervisors have only started to delve into their large budget books.

“The board ultimately will decide which recommendation we take or not,” Carbajal said. “At the end of the day, we have to achieve a balanced budget. It’s just going to be one of those many issues for discussion and consideration.

“Certainly, I keep an open mind until the actual budget deliberations occur. It’s hard to say right now. It is a challenging year.”

Enfield said that while UCCE funding was on the chopping block several years ago, the funds ultimately were still awarded.

UCCE funding is supplemented with other grants, but Enfield said no county money means no more county ag or youth services that inspire healthier lifestyles, higher school engagement and academic achievement.

The Board of Supervisors will decide the program’s fate during a series of budget hearings to take place June 10, 12 and 14.

“We’re very, very hopeful and optimistic that during the budget hearings the Board of Supervisors will decide to put funding back,” Enfield said. “We’re hoping, of course, that the 4-H program will be strong and active for another 100 years to come in Santa Barbara County.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.