Service center targeted for closure

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, January 12, 2012

MONTICELLO – She goes to the U.S.Department of Agriculture offices in Monticello with questions, andshe gets answers.

    Lawrence County’s Lena Whorton, 74, remembers a USDA presence inMonticello going back to the 1960s, and for many of the years sincethat decade, Whorton has relied on farming to support family.

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“Back when the children were small, I madea living on farming,” Whorton said. “I farmed until 1985.”

    But Whorton will have to take her questions elsewhere if a proposalto close the USDA Service Center in Monticello moves forward.

    The Monticello office is one of 260 office nationwide slated forclosure or consolidation. A report released this week identifiedthe offices eyed for closure and estimated a total of $150 milliona year will be saved out of the agency’s $145 billion budget.

    The news of potential office closure follows a trend forMonticello. A USDA Rural Development office was moved out ofMonticello and consolidated with Brookhaven several years ago, saidMonticello mayor Dave Nichols.

    Offices for the Farm Service Agency and Natural ResourceConservation Service comprise the remaining USDA presence inMonticello.

    The Monticello office would be consolidated with the offices inPrentiss, located in adjacent Jefferson Davis County, according toKent Politsch, USDA chief of public affairs. The Prentiss office is13.6 miles from the Monticello office, according to Politsch.

    Politsch said the Monticello offices employ one person full timeand that employee would be given the option of moving toPrentiss.

    “Since most of the producers in Lawrence County will be doing theirbusiness in Jefferson Davis, we want a familiar face there,”Politsch said.

    Politsch said the employee could also request placement in otherneighboring areas if so desired.

    A public meeting regarding the closure will be held at 10 a.m. Jan.19 at the Lawrence County Civic Center in Monticello. MississippiFarm Service Agency State Executive Director Michael R. Sullivanwill be present at the meeting.

    The public meetings will be followed by a 90-day review periodafter which action, including office closures, can be taken, saidPolitsch.

    Closure of the Monticello offices was originally proposed severalyears ago, according to Nichols. However, after the objection ofsome local residents, the offices remained open.

    That the closures would be planned again does not surprise Nichols.He attributed the consolidations and closures to the currenteconomic conditions and the calls for reduced governmentspending.

    Nichols pointed out that such closures may be unfortunate butnecessary.

    “If we want to talk about government waste and want a leangovernment stuff like this has to happen,” the mayor said.

    Farmers receiving grants and seeking technical assistance are theprimary patrons of the Monticello office, according to Nichols.

    Now, local farmers utilizing those services will have to work withUSDA over the phone or go to the local offices in Prentiss orBrookhaven. Politsch said local producers have the option ofdetermining which office they would prefer to visit depending ontheir geographic location in Lawrence County.

    Nichols said to his knowledge, foot traffic in the Monticellooffice is minor.

    “We hate to lose it, but in the scheme of things it’s minor,”Nichols said.

    For her part, Whorton will miss the office.

    “It would affect me a whole lot,” she said of the proposedclosure.

    After all, her agricultural efforts aren’t slowing down. Though shehas moved down from farming to gardening, she has an expansion ofher garden planned.

    And though she said Prentiss would only be a 20-minute drive, it’sa drive she’d rather not make.

    “I would prefer to stay in Lawrence County,” Whorton said.