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April 9, 2003

Agriculture budget ensures closer inspection of animal diseases

SPRINGFIELD, ILL. - Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today proposed a budget for the Illinois Department of Agriculture that would save the state $9.7 million and still enable the agency to maintain its important meat inspection program and to expand efforts to monitor and prepare for foreign animal diseases.

The fiscal year 2004 budget recommended for the department totals $110.5 million, 8 percent less than its fiscal year 2003 appropriation of $120.2 million. The proposed budget reflects a 12 percent reduction in General Revenue funds, from $53.7 million this fiscal year to $47.3 million in FY04.

“By reducing administrative overhead, trimming spending for data processing and contractual services, and streamlining middle management, this plan will improve operating efficiency and allow us to replace seven retired meat inspectors in a difficult budget year,” said acting Agriculture Director Tom Jennings.

The budget plan cuts administrative spending by $1.9 million, primarily through a realignment of job duties and a reduction in authorized headcount. Staffing reductions would be accomplished by not filling a number of vacancies created by early retirements and through natural attrition.

Additional savings of $7.8 million would be achieved through cuts to department grant programs, including a $721,000 decrease in contributions to the Illinois State Fair.

“Expenditures on the state fair cannot be justified—at least at last year’s level—when the department is facing budget cuts in core regulatory areas,” Jennings said. “This budget would rightfully place a priority on maintaining essential services such as food safety and environmental protection.”

The fair’s admission, parking and space rental fees would increase under the budget proposal. The increases would make the fees competitive with those charged by fairs in neighboring states and ensure the fair has adequate operational funds.

Admission tickets would increase from $3 to $5; a discount booklet, which includes admission for all 10 days of the fair, would jump $5 to $25; and a10-day parking pass would go up $5 to $30. Fair concessions would be assessed a flat rate based upon the size of their booth and sales history instead of a percentage of gross revenues. The change is projected to raise $85,000.

A survey by the International Association of Fairs and Expositions in 2000 concluded Illinois State Fair revenues are among the lowest in the nation. In addition, the fair’s admission fee last year was less than half the $6.71 average charged by other state fairs.

The budget also proposes to leverage more than $1 million in new federal funds to expand surveillance of foreign animal diseases and to enhance emergency preparedness.

Currently, surveillance of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a fatal neurological disease in cattle, is limited to slaughter facilities and feed mills. A federal grant would expand this program to include farms by offering indemnity payments to livestock producers who submit animals for testing. No cases of the disease have been confirmed in the United States, but increased surveillance would provide additional assurance to consumers that their food is safe to eat as well as keep foreign livestock markets open to Illinois producers.

Another federal grant would provide specialized “first responder” training for state veterinarians. Through the program, a veterinarian in every county would be trained to control a foreign animal disease outbreak in the critical first hours after it was diagnosed.


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