Boards give tools to make Alabama Farm Center self-sustaining

Published 4:51 pm Friday, March 12, 2021

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By JOYANNA LOVE/ Managing Editor

As a groundbreaking for the Alabama Farm Center at Alfa Centennial Park gets just a little closer, the boards involved in the project are being talked about more.

The Alabama Agricultural Authority of Chilton County and the Alabama Agriculture and Exhibition Center Cooperative District have each been created as a way to help manage the project and the center once it is created.

The property that the Farm Center will be developed on was transferred from the City of Clanton and the Chilton County Commission to the Agriculture and Exhibition Center Cooperative District through a limited warranty deed on March 9.

The Industrial Development Board held the community meetings to develop the master plan for Exit 212 and was influential in helping local governments establish these boards essential to the success of the Alabama Farm Center.


Alabama Agricultural Authority of Chilton County

The formation of the Agricultural Authority was approved by the Alabama Secretary of State in January 2020 as a tool for the Alabama Farmers Federation in development of the property.

However, an agricultural authority and a cooperative district have different tools available to them, so it was deemed beneficial to have both for the Alabama Farm Center project.

The Alabama Agriculture and Exhibition Center Cooperative District is the tool for local governments to complete what it needs to for the project.

When the State Legislature passed a law allowing agricultural authorities it created a development tool for all of the counties with qualifying projects to use.

“This Ag authority concept … was generated for the purpose of museums, ag centers, workforce centers, art concert halls … and to create a mechanism to allow for a funding mechanism,” Whitney Barlow, Industrial Development Authority executive director, said. “It’s not a funding mechanism like a city and a county. It is a funding mechanism to assist in the economic development of the project.”

Barlow said the Alabama Farmers Federation discussed one being created as it was selecting Chilton County as the site for its centennial celebration project, the Alabama Farm Center.  The Chilton County Commission was the government entity with the authority to create the Agricultural Authority “for the purpose of them (Farmers Federation) being able to create a funding mechanism to enable them to have the opportunity to bond, to create a revenue stream for themselves to make this project work,” Barlow said.

Mathew Durdin, director for External Affairs for the Alabama Farmers Federation, said the Agriculture Authority was a component the Alabama Farmers Federation wanted as a way to pay for construction, “to help pay for the bond on the park.”

“The Ag Authority is important to us because it helps us control what is going on at the park,” Durdin said. “The group that will overall manage the project. They will manage the construction of the project. They will manage the design of the project. They will hire the fair operator. They will hire the manager of the barn. They will hire the landscape folks … The Ag Authority is created to be the manager.”

The Authority will also setup the inner workings of how the Alabama Farm Center will operate after it is built.

The Alabama Agricultural Authority of Chilton County has a board of directors of three people. Two are appointed by the local (Chilton County) legislative delegation, which includes the county’s representation in the state Senate and the state House of Representatives. The final seat is appointed by the Chilton County Commission. The initial appointees by the local legislatures were David Heflin of the Alabama Farmers Federation and Van Forrester. The Chilton County Commission appointed Lyn Harrison. Each board member serves a six-year term. All of these appointees live in Chilton County.

“It is the mechanism for the Alabama Farmers Federation to do their part of the project,” Barlow said.


Alabama Agriculture and Exhibition Center Cooperative District

The Alabama Agriculture and Exhibition Center Cooperative District gives specific options to help with paying for infrastructure.

Board member and Chilton County Commissioner Matt Mims described the board as “a mechanism to hold the money for the Alfa project,” make it eligible to apply for grants and ability to assess a consumer fee within the district.

“That is the beauty of it. If you want to create an infrastructure system for that area, you don’t want to burden people… who live in other parts of the county. You don’t expect your residents to carry the burden of growth,” Barlow said.

The consumer fee can help the development of the property within the district be self-sustaining and eliminate the need to raise taxes throughout the county to generate revenue needed for developing that specific geographical area.

Heflin has also been appointed to the board of the Cooperative District to help ensure that everyone is on the same page as the project progresses and operates. The other two board members are Mims and Bobby Cook, who was appointed by the Clanton City Council.

“The members of the Ag Cooperative District are agents of these respective bodies and their sole purpose is to deliver the intent of their authoritative body,” Barlow said.


Moving forward

Durdin said the plan is for the Agricultural Authority to lease the property from the Cooperative District, which now holds a limited warranty deed on the property.

Which aspects of the Alabama Farm Center project, including who pays for infrastructure needs, each of these groups will oversee will be defined in a memorandum of agreement.

“The contract negotiation on this project (Farm Center) is still held with the city, county and the Farmers Federation,” Barlow said.

The Ag Authority and the Cooperative District then become ways for the contract obligations to be fulfilled.