Farmers in Loudoun County will soon have a voice in county government who will be promoting their interests, following action by the county board on Monday approving the creation of an agricultural development officer.
"This is to give the farming community a representative in government to help perpetuate agriculture in Loudoun," said Supervisor Thomas S. Dodson, one of the chief advocates of the new office, in an interview. In recent years, agriculture, Loudoun's largest industry, has come under increasing pressure from the sweep of residential and commercial development across the county.
However, the idea of an agricultural development officer came under fire from some Republicans on the board, who argued that the new position is unnecessary and is an expensive addition to the county bureaucracy.
Supporters countered that the new position for agriculture would be equivalent to that of other county employes who seek to attract industrial development to Loudoun.
"This is the first, the last and the oldest business in this county, and all we're asking for is a fair shake," said Vice Chairman James F. Brownell, the only full-time farmer on the board.
With salary, benefits and operating expenses, the new position will cost the county $38,269 a year.
Frank I. Lambert, who cast one of three votes against the new post, said in an interview that the job description for the development officer appears largely to duplicate services already furnished by the Cooperative Extension Service, a state agency.
Supervisor Andrew R. Bird III, arguing before the board, likened the creation of a new bureaucratic position to "a giant weed . . . which will grow and grow" as an expense to the county.
Opponents also said that an unspoken reason for hiring the agricultural officer was to provide an agent to lobby the General Assembly for Loudoun's proposed transferable development rights program, which the board is expected to pass later this month. The controversial program is designed to target growth in already developed areas of the county, while applying permanent restrictions on development in rural areas. The program will require state approval.
Indeed, Board Chairman Frank Raflo said in an interview that the eventual vote on TDR will likely mirror Monday's 5-to-3 vote on an agricultural development officer. Raflo contended that both measures represent the ideal way for Loudoun to achieve a mix of industrial and agricultural activity.
"The importance of this job is to explain the importance of agriculture as a quality-of-life element" in Loudoun, Raflo said. "This is an effort to enable the development community to continue to brag about the farms and the hills and the open spaces."
Voting in favor of the new position were Raflo, Brownell, Dodson, Ann B. Kavanagh and Betty Tatum. Voting against were Steve W. Stockman, Bird and Lambert.