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A change for agriculture department amid budget proposal; commission may discuss it Monday

BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE

COURTHOUSE — The details of the proposed city spending plan have been reported over the past weeks, and officials have touted a key headline after last year’s contentious process.

“No tax hike — none,” said Catheryn Whitesell, director of budget and management services, during  briefing for reporters this past month. “For the first time since the recession, revenue is beginning to carry us a bit.” She later called the change “a light at the end of the tunnel.”

One aspect of the spending plan of note to residents of southern Virginia Beach is a possible change that would place the agriculture department, which oversees efforts such as the agriculture reserve program, within the planning department. 

Agriculture Director David Trimmer would become a division head, also overseeing permits, inspections and efforts in support of the interfacility traffic area study, according to a letter by City Manager David Hansen introducing the spending plan.

Officials, including Trimmer, have stressed during interviews that the possible change would not lessen the city’s commitment to the industry. The proposed budget does not reduce positions.

The matter is scheduled to be discussed on Monday, April 11, during the Agriculture Advisory Commission meeting. Mike Cullipher of the commission, in an interview, said he expects a discussion to fully understand the change and any implications.

This quarter’s meeting will be held at the Creeds Ruritan Community Complex, 1057 Princess Anne Road. It begins at 7 p.m.

“We have a very energetic, dynamic agriculture director,” Whitesell said. “It should not reduce the focus on agriculture at all.” 

The city administration would bring the agriculture department and also the strategic growth area office into planning. Hansen said in an interview that the change would ensure agriculture and strategic growth efforts still receive the same support while addressing demand for services within planning. 

There would be no reduction in resources for agriculture, he said, by a transition from department to a division within planning. The change for agriculture was presented, in part, as a show of confidence in Trimmer.

“We can leverage excellent management capability, that agriculture director and SGA interim director, and not sacrifice any support,” Hansen said.

City Councilmember Barbara Henley, a farmer who represents the Princess Anne District, said citizens should understand that the discussion is preliminary and that there would be no effort to do away with agriculture capabilities.

She also made it clear that there is a distinction between city roles and efforts of extension personnel, which primarily are state positions, though they work closely with city staff.

At times, it seems the department is focused on managing the agricultural reserve program and the Virginia Beach Farmers Market, Henley said.

She said she will use the budget season to speak with a number of citizens about priorities for city agriculture efforts.

“Are there other things we can be doing?” she asked.

Trimmer, too, said the change could be an opportunity. “Nothing changes other than we’re going to pick up more responsibility,” Trimmer said. “I want agriculture to have an expanded role.”

Farmer Don Horsley, who serves on the city planning commission, said, “There’s always going to be some concern, but, if it’s as David anticipates, it’s going to be a good change.” 

Two public hearings on the overall budget proposal are scheduled. One is at 6 p.m., April 21, at Cox High School, 2425 Shorehaven Drive. The other is at 6 p.m., April 26, in city council chambers at city hall, 2401 Courthouse Drive.


© 2016 Pungo Publishing Co. LLC

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