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Delegation votes to dispose of county dairy herd

December 15, 2010
WEST STEWARTSTOWN — The Cos County dairy herd of some 65 milkers and other cattle at the county farm will likely go on the block in the next six months.

Duffy Daugherty, a newly elected state representative, took the bull by the horns before the start of Saturday's Cos County public budget hearing to bring forward a resolution directing the county commissioners and their administrator to dispose of the "entire dairy herd and all milking-operations-related equipment and supplies" before the March budget meeting and to only expend $50,000 by that date. The resolution stipulated, however, that funds derived from the sale and shutdown of these operations could be used to defray the shutdown. After the commissioners and county administrator Sue Collins brought up various logistical problems that such a hasty retreat from operating a dairy farm that has lost money for many of the last 20 years, the delegation amended its resolution to set the shutdown no later than June 30 with an expenditure of no more than $200,000.

County treasurer Fred King of Colebrook said that late February or early March would be the wrong time to sell, since the winter's silage and hay is in place, although not the costly grain which is purchased every two weeks.

A state representative noted, however, that the county would probably save money even if all the livestock were given away.

Ms. Collins noted that some $8,000 in town property taxes would still have to be paid as well as funds to pay for the accrued time of the county's three employees.

County commission chairman Burnham "Bing" Judd of Pittsburg said that closing the county farm would deny jail inmates a chance to learn good work habits and also hurt area farms.

"Young inmates learn from getting up at 2:30 a.m. to milk cows," he said.

Area farmers' ability to attract large animal veterinarians and milk haulers are already in jeopardy.

Admitting that the farm is bleeding red ink, however, chairman Judd said it would only cost each county taxpayer about $5 to keep the dairy herd in place.

The farm is likely to lose $130,000 in 2011.

"Taxpayers cannot sustain such a loss," said Rep. Larry Rappaport of Colebrook.

"These are tough times, and I'm figuring on worse coming," added Rep. Herb Richardson of Lancaster, noting that 54 percent of Lancaster School students are receiving free or reduced lunches. "And Lancaster is in relatively good shape."

Rep. Bill Hatch of Gorham said that this discussion has been held many times before and should not be a surprise.

Commissioner Paul Grenier of Berlin said that he fears that delegation members are finally losing heart at just the moment when milk prices are turning around, this after subsidizing the operation for some time.

Furthermore, Commissioner Grenier said, the county may have to pay $80,000 a year for a new corrections officer to "babysit inmates" on outside work details in nearby communities to ensure that they get enough exercise.

Delegation chairman John Tholl of Whitefield he had spoken with former chairman Rep. Robert Theberge of Berlin who has been extremely reluctant to close down dairy operations. "Rep. Theberge told me that there is no way that the farm could make a profit or break even," Rep. Tholl reported.

Speaking for himself, chairman Tholl said he could not support budgeting "to lose money. The time has come."

The amended resolution passed 8 to 1, with only Rep. Gary Coulombe of Berlin voting "no." Rep. Coulombe, also newly elected, said that he is very concerned that the domino effect about which chairman Judd warned could hurt Cos' family farms.

Rep. Tholl said that the delegation would reactivate the subcommittee that works on county farm's issues. The final version of the resolution included the possibility of some flexibility in working through the issues of what will become of the farm and its fields.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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