Local News

Tobacco Buyout Could Put Strain On Big Tobacco Counties

Posted July 10, 2004

— Tobacco farmers are hopeful they finally will get a buyout this year. For many of them, it offers a chance to get out while others could afford to keep growing.

Many tobacco farmers have said that without a buyout, their businesses could fold in the next year. But the plan that would bring financial relief to farmers could put a strain on big tobacco counties.

"Our budget has been very tight for the last four years," Wilson County Manager Ellis Williford said. "There is not a lot of extra, not a lot of surplus. We need to build schools."

Wilson County's tobacco quota is valued at more than $24 million. The county collects about $178,000 a year in taxes from that quota.

The buyout would get rid of the quota. As a result, the tax revenue would go away as well.

Williford said it is too early to tell if they would have to raise property taxes, but he said it would be a struggle to get by.

"It's a significant amount of money," Williford said. "We'd have to do some trimming to absorb that."

Agriculture extension agent Norm Harrell said revenue should even out.

"The tobacco quota buyout is absolutely necessary and critical," Harrell said.

Harrell said a government boost would give many tobacco farmers spending power they have not had in years.

"If the buyout goes through, we'll see an increase in equipment purchases: new pickup trucks, spending money locally, that will definitely help these local economies," Harrell said.

Harrell also said farmers who choose to stop growing could start new local businesses.

Counties like Wilson believe that potential for long-term growth is worth the short-term financial sacrifice.

"I think the buyout would totally outweight the loss in tax revenue," Williford said.

Tobacco farmers just hope their new way of life is right around the corner.

Tobacco-buyout legislation passed in the House last month. It still has to be approved by the Senate.

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