06/02/14 — New bill seeking $3 million for local ag center

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New bill seeking $3 million for local ag center

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 2, 2014 1:46 PM

A bill seeking a $3 million state appropriation for Wayne County's proposed $12 million regional agricultural center Wednesday passed its first reading in the state Senate and was referred to the Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources Committee.

If the bill receives a favorable committee review, it will be sent to the Appropriations/Base Budget Committee.

Senate Bill 862 was introduced Tuesday by Sens. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, and Don Davis, D-Greene. State. Reps. John Bell, R-Wayne, and Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, have voiced support for the project as well.

Pate said Monday morning that the bill is still in the Agriculture, Environment, Natural Resources Committee. The local bill is not part of the regular budget process, but will still require an appropriation, he said.

The county would use the $ 3 million to help pay for the design, to develop schematic drawings and plans and for construction.

The county would retain ownership and responsibility for future operational costs of the facility.

Wayne County commissioners last October appropriated $2 million for the project, and plans are to seek funding from the federal government as well as from private sources.

Commissioner Bill Pate, chairman of the commission's Agriculture Advisory Committee, said he had been made aware more than a week ago that the bill would be filed and had looked at it in advance.

Pate said he is excited that the county's legislative delegation is listening to commissioners and that the project has bipartisan support.

In May, the committee received 12 responses to its request for qualifications for companies interested in doing the project. The committee's facilities subcommittee narrowed the list to five.

A meeting has been scheduled for Thursday at 9 a.m. to interview representatives from those companies prior to preparing a recommendation for commissioners. It will be held in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.

The five companies that made the initial cut are Hobbs Architects of Pittsboro, Oakley Collier of Rocky Mount, HH Architecture of Raleigh, MHA Works of Greenville and Bowman Murray Hemingway of Wilmington.

The 56,565-square-foot, two-story center would house the Cooperative Extension Service, Cherry Farm administration, Center for Environmental Farming Systems, Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Wayne County Soil and Water. It would include classrooms and an auditorium that could accommodate up to 378 people in banquet-style seating or 528 in auditorium-style seating.

In the bill, Davis and Louis Pate said that the "Wayne Regional Research and Education Agricultural Center will have a positive impact on the economy through biotechnical opportunities, bringing resources to the region, serving the farm community, and creating a value-added incubator center for the farm community; will develop and promote alternative agriculture; will create educational and research opportunities; and will develop a collaborative effort and relationship with Wayne Community College and the University of Mount Olive Agribusiness Center."

The local legislative delegation also supports commissioners' request that the state convey the old Cherry Hospital dairy property to the county as the site for the center.

North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler has endorsed the project as well.

He said that he was struck by the county's decision to appropriate $2 million for the project. That demonstrates a local commitment to see the project through, he said.