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Bertie delays ag district ordinance

WINDSOR – A proposed ordinance that would have provided voluntary agriculture districts in Bertie County hit a snag here Tuesday.

During the regular meeting of the Bertie County Commissioners, board members decided to further study an ordinance that was brought before them by Steve Woodson of the North Carolina Farm Bureau.

The proposed ordinance would have established Voluntary Agriculture Districts in Bertie County. Land owners who used their property for agricultural purposes would be able to apply for the designation through a committee set up by the commissioners.

“The purpose of this Ordinance is to promote agricultural values and the general welfare of the county and more specifically, increase identity and pride in the agricultural community and its way of life,” the ordinance reads.

The problem for at least one commissioner was the proposed ordinance did not take into account the county’s vast animal agriculture industry.

“One of the problems I have is poultry farms won’t qualify under this ordinance,” Commissioner Rick Harrell said. “One of Bertie County’s largest agriculture industries is animal agriculture.”

Woodson said the issue had been raised before by other counties who were looking at the ordinance, but the language as to qualifications was taken directly from state law.

To be considered for the voluntary district, the farm must participate in the present-use-value taxation program, be managed in accordance with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, be the subject of a conservation agreement and be located in Bertie County.

Harrell said the present-use-value qualification would mean farms must be at least 10 acres, which would rule out any animal agriculture farms.

Woodson said the issue would likely be addressed during next year’s legislative session.

Harrell asked if the county could add animal agriculture to its own ordinance, but Woodson said it wouldn’t be advisable.

“It wouldn’t be the first time someone decided to include something that wasn’t in the legislation, but if you ignored the law, it would probably be struck down by a court,” Woodson said.

Harrell said he didn’t want to ignore a state statute, but didn’t feel comfortable with the ordinance the way it was written.

“This is one area of concern, along with others, that would cause us to delay action on this today,” Board Chairman Norman M. Cherry said.

Woodson said he agreed that chicken houses were an issue.

“People who move close need to know sometimes when they walk out of their house, you will smell something,” he said.

Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb asked if the recommended legislative remedy would be to change present-use taxation laws to reduce acreage or to include animal agriculture.

Woodson said the thought at this time was to include a provision with a minimum number of animal units.

Cherry said the board would look more in depth at the proposed ordinance during an upcoming work session and contact Woodson with any concerns or questions.

Following the presentation, John Stallings of Windsor asked to address the board.

In his remarks, he said he thought the issue was important enough for the board to take a close look before acting, especially considering the 400-plus poultry houses in the county.

“It’s something you really ought to talk about,” he said.