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Funding is the crux for ag programs

Elizabeth Wilkerson - ewilkerson@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- While agricultural economic development and purchase of development rights programs are desirable in Shenandoah County, funding for them may be hard to find, officials said Thursday.

At the county's Community Planning Project steering committee's Thursday meeting, the group discussed several land conservation tools, including agricultural economic development and programs for purchasing development rights.

Planning consultant Milt Herd said agricultural economic development generated a lot of support in public forums last year. An agricultural economic development director would have a variety of duties, he said, and would promote innovative efforts among farmers and agricultural tourism.

It's a fairly low-cost tool, but it's also indirect, Herd said, "so you don't have a lot of guarantees of measurable success."

If the county doesn't promote agricultural development, what will it accomplish by pushing 90 percent of its development to areas around towns, Planning Commissioner Russ Adams asked.

Board of Supervisors Chairman David Ferguson said, to him, the primary goal is to keep the county rural, and not only because "you need rural to farm."

"Believe it or not, the people in town want to stay rural, too," he said. The question is whether the rural land will "lay waste" and promote development or be farmed, he said.

If officials want the land to be used for agriculture, he said, "then, from an economic perspective, we've made a decision" and need an agricultural economic development director. The county needs to consider its available resources and priorities, he said.

"The last thing I want to do is run that very farmer out of business because he can't support the revenue requirements of all these programs," he said.

Ferguson asked whether there was consensus among the group members that an agricultural economic development program is needed, and the group agreed. The Board of Supervisors will decide whether and how to fund the program, he said.

District 6 Supervisor Conrad Helsley said the county has already created an agricultural economic development director position. Ferguson said he thinks the program can be created, and, though the county "may not get the Cadillac," it will be moving in the desired direction.

Much like an agricultural economic development program, a program for purchasing development rights depends on funding, Herd said. The county already has a PDR program in place, but funding is an issue, he said.

Ferguson said, "if you have the money to do [a PDR program], great."

"I, personally, don't see where that financing is going to be there in the short term," he said. "I'd be very hard pressed to increase taxes for it now."

Herd said the PDR program was one tool that would balance out the county's regulatory efforts and "fill in the whole spectrum of strategies."

Panel member John Adamson said the program feeds directly into the vision of the comprehensive plan, and it's vital to get some money into it.

"There needs to be a way to get some tiny [revenue] stream going ... so those few properties we think are extremely important can be preserved that way," he said. In its initial years, the program wouldn't have to be "massively funded," he said.

Herd suggested the panel recommend that the board earmark some funds for the program.

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