OWEGO -- In order to fully explore any available methods to boost local agricultural growth while moving the county's farmland protection plan robustly forward, Tioga County officials have uncovered a way to hire a full-time agricultural development specialist at no increased cost to taxpayers.
For the 2018 county budget, $25,000 was allocated toward a line item for the hiring of a part-time agricultural development specialist.
"What we're finding, however, (is that) given the qualifications to fill that position, we're having a really hard time filling it," explained county Economic Development and Planning Executive Director LeeAnn Tinney at last week's legislature work session. "(We have been) looking for a bachelor's (degree candidate) for a part-time position with no benefits."
"So, it's been challenging to get someone to respond," Tinney continued.
"As a result of all this, we've been brainstorming to try to figure out how to make this work," said Tinney. "I'd like to propose ... to make that part time position, a full-time position, and we would be able to offer that to the county for the period of a year-and-a-half, in order to test efficacy."
In order to provide the funds necessary to cover a full-time salary and benefits, Tinney explained that the county's Industrial Development Agency had recently passed a resolution to put $5,000 toward the increased cost for this year, and up to $15,000 for 2019.
"So, there would be no impact to the economic development budget in the next year-and-a-half," Tinney explained. "(We would) be able to hire someone full-time, test it, and see if it makes sense. Maybe, we will get done and say 'we really could do it with a part-time person.'"
"With this plan, that would at least offer us an opportunity to really work at it for a year and a half, to really go after it, without having an impact with the budget," Tinney added.
Legislator Dennis Mullen asked whether there were any particular projects that would be pursued.
Tinney explained that among the top priorities for the individual would be "connecting our farmers with markets outside of Tioga County -- looking to get out to New York City markets, or getting their product into Wegman's, or whatever it may be to broaden the ag reach in the market."
"There are some very specific things that are outlined," she continued. "(To) connect farmers with potential funding sources, connecting them with grant opportunities, working with (the county department of) soil and water, and connecting with local lenders."
"I feel like we are completely missing the boat on that right now," Tinney said.
"Right now, one of the big things I can see -- or at least one that people have been talking to me about -- is hemp," said Legislator Dale Weston. "We are in an area where that could be a viable crop for a lot of the soils we have that are, right now, non-productive."
"That could create not only a market, but a processing plant -- which a person is interested in doing -- and so on," Weston continued. "Maybe you could get a lot of the other farmland people to participate and get into that whole process."
"The closer you are to the place of processing, the more money the farmer can make," he added.
Tinney agreed, and noted that it does hold a lot of possibility.
"How are we going to look at it to see if we're getting a bang for our buck?" asked Legislator Mike Roberts.
"Maybe there would be jobs created, or maybe additional sales or real property tax, or a new farm taking on hemp," Tinney replied.
"We don't have that tool?" asked Roberts.
"Not right now, but that would be on our department (to figure out)," Tinney answered.
"I think it would be fair to be honest with (the candidate) that this is going to be evaluated at the end of 2019, so there is the chance that it could end at that time," said county Personnel Officer Bethany O'Rourke.
"It will give them more incentive, too," added Legislator Ed Hollenbeck.
"If we can create the markets that are needed, that's what I am interested in," said Mullen.