Hay plan set to go to Sullivan County Commission without endorsement

J. H. Osborne • Feb 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — A proposal to spend taxpayer dollars to reimburse local cattle farmers for hay transportation costs will go to the Sullivan County Commission without the endorsement of any of that body’s three primary committees.

Each committee — Administrative, Executive and Budget — discussed the proposal, along with potential guidelines for how the money would be doled out, in meetings last week.

All voted to take no action.

The proposal is on the agenda for the full commission’s Feb. 19 meeting.

Several commissioners have specifically requested an appearance at that meeting by someone from the University of Tennessee’s local Agricultural Extension office — funded in part by the county.

As the Budget Committee discussed the proposal, Commissioner Mark Vance said maybe the issue should be remembered when the upcoming budget cycle begins, and the extension office comes with its budget request.

“If we’re going to have to do the job for them, then maybe what we need to do is make sure the job gets done,” Vance said.

“Take the money and hire us someone to work here,” said Commissioner Eddie Williams.

Even one of the resolution’s co-sponsors said he’d like to see better participation from outside the commission.

Buddy King said he has “got a problem” with he and the other sponsors of the resolution “taking the heat off this,” when other people ought to be doing the job.

“We don’t have any help in Sullivan County when it comes to that,” Dwight King said, noting hay assistance programs have been in place in some other counties in the state.

Williams and other commissioners said since the issue became public, they’ve received phone calls from county residents wanting to know what the county can do to help them pay higher fuel prices — either in business or at home.

A late freeze in early 2007, coupled with a drought throughout the summer and fall, meant local hay crops were off by as much as half their normal levels, according to the resolution being considered.

Buddy King, Dwight King and Commissioner Elliott Kilgore proposed spending $50,000 of Sullivan County’s multi-million-dollar surplus to help cattle producers offset the cost of hauling hay into the county.

Their resolution was heard on first reading at the full commission’s Jan. 22 meeting.

The issue could come for a vote this month.

An amendment to the proposal on Jan. 22 authorized County Mayor Steve Godsey to appoint a “temporary committee” consisting of Godsey, Dwight King, Buddy King, Chris Ramsey and Kevin Melvin, “to discuss the resolution.”

Ramsey is with the University of Tennessee’s local Agricultural Extension office and Melvin is a hay broker, Dwight King said last week.

Most of the hay coming into the area is coming from Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas, Dwight King said.

“What we’re talking about is tractor-trailer loads of hay,” Dwight King said. “An average, for big square bales — three by four by eight — you’re talking 20 to 23 tons per load. So if you got 20 tons, that’s $700 you’d get paid (by the county) on the cost of transportation. That’s not helping pay for the hay — just the transportation costs.”

A full load of hay cost $140 to $160 per ton (or up to $3,200 for 20 tons), plus $1,200 to $1,800 for transportation, Dwight King said.

Under guidelines for the proposed rebate program, Sullivan County would reimburse cattle farmers $35 per ton of hay delivered toward transportation costs, up to 20 tons per cattle ranching operation.

Budget Committee Chairman Eddie Williams said he raises cattle — “80 or 100 head” — and he just doesn’t understand those prices, or the need to look so far to find hay.

Williams said he has personally been able to find hay and have it delivered to his barn door for $60 per ton — and that there’s hay to be found a lot closer than the Midwest, specifically, from Alabama.

Guidelines for the proposed program, apparently worked out by the temporary committee, were presented to the committees last week.

They include:

•To receive money through the program, an applicant must own property in the county.

•The program would be limited to one load of hay per farming operation — if a farmer owns or leases more than one farm, they would be eligible for cost-sharing on transportation of only one load of hay.

•It would be up to the applicant to find hay, arrange for its transportation here, and pay the transportation costs — then bring a bill, showing weight of the load, to the county for reimbursement.

•Those bills would be subject to verification by the county, with spotchecks conducted by a committee appointed by the county mayor.

•The rate of payment would be $35 per ton. For example, if a farmer bought 10 tons of hay, he or she would receive $350 for the load.

•The program would provide assistance on a maximum of 25 tons of hay per load.

•The program would be retroactive, covering loads of hay delivered from Dec. 1, 2007 until April 30.

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