03/20/09 — Bill calls for new Wayne agricultural center

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Bill calls for new Wayne agricultural center

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 20, 2009 1:46 PM

Local legislators have introduced bills in both the state House and Senate to begin work on a long-sought regional agricultural center for Wayne County.

And while they acknowledge that funding for such a project may be a long shot given the current $2 billion budget shortfall, they also said that asking for it was the responsible thing to do this year.

"We might not get any funding, but it could be possible with the stimulus money, so it'd be foolish of us not to put it in," said Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, who submitted the bill last week. "If there's any money being distributed we certainly need to get some of it."

Also signing onto it in the House were Reps. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, and Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, while in the Senate, Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene, introduced a companion bill.

Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston, however, did not sign onto that one as a co-sponsor.

"I'm all for the regional ag center. Unfortunately we have to prioritize and we have very little money," he said. "I'm very supportive of the idea of one, but it's going to be difficult to fund anything new right now in this budget economy."

Instead, he continued, he would rather fund the $3 million for design work through other sources rather than state taxpayer dollars.

"There may be some other avenues we can pursue," he said.

But even though other legislators agreed that funding may be tight, they still felt it was important to at least ask.

"I think the chances of getting any funding this year are slim. I don't think there will be many, if any projects like this funded," Braxton said. "But we need to keep it at the forefront for later years.

"Wayne is in the center of an agricultural region, so a regional ag center would be a good fit in Goldsboro."

And that, Davis said, was why he decided to introduce the bill in the Senate.

"As much as I might want it, I'm being realistic about getting it," he said. "The aim is to keep it on the radar screen."

The facility, which legislators anticipate will cost approximately $11.5 million to build, would serve a six-county region where legislators say agriculture brings more than $2 billion into the economy.

It would house the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, the Farm Service Agency, the Division of Soil and Water Conservation, the Cherry Farm administrative unit, the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, the area office for the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the regional offices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Other aspects they say the center could include are a farmer's market, programs on growing and selling local produce, programs on sustainable practices and programs on cooking and healthy living.

The plan is to build the center on a 10-11 acre plot near Cherry Hospital where the McFarland building currently stands. However, before the county will take control of the property, County Manager Lee Smith explained they need a commitment to help fund the demolition of the existing structure and the construction of the new center.