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Ag department faces budget challenges

Cutting the fiscal 2011 budget of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture won’t be easy.

Most state agencies face the budget axe this year as the Idaho Legislature plans for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The Agriculture Department’s challenges include that it has a long list of tasks required by statute and that its budget has a heavy dose of dedicated funds – basically fees from producers who expect to receive services for the money they pay.

The department has more than 60 programs and about 40 funds, said Kelly Nielsen, Idaho State Department of Agriculture financial officer. Whether certain funding cuts are one-time or ongoing will influence what happens, he said, as one-time cuts provide the most flexibility.

Inspectors, for example, may focus on areas that receive dedicated funds or could perform more inspections based on complaints as long as program effectiveness is maintained, he said.

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture for the fiscal year that started last July 1 trained one inspector to handle livestock and dairy inspections, including contained animal feeding operations, in the Preston area, Nielsen said. Two inspectors handled the tasks previously.

The department will keep looking for these kinds of opportunities, he said.

“So far, we have been lucky,” Nielsen said. “We have had employees step up and do more than is asked of them.”

The account of Idaho Preferred, a food marketing program funded by fees, contains about $40,000. Nielsen said the Fiscal 2011 spending proposal calls for raising the program’s spending authority to $60,000 from the current $35,000.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter for Fiscal 2010 recommended lump-sum allocation for the department, which allowed Agriculture Director Celia Gould more flexibility in managing resources and priorities to meet agency goals and obligations. The Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the Department of Agriculture’s fiscal 2011 budget at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 10, subject to change.

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