McMillan speaks on issues

Published 8:09 am Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Atmore City Councilman Jim Staff, left, chats with Commissioner of Agirculture and Industries John McMillan during the commissioner’s stop in Atmore Tuesday.|Photo by Chandler Myers

Budget cuts have hit the state Department of Agriculture and Industries hard, Commissioner John McMillan said Tuesday.

The department also encountered problems as a result of tornadoes that struck across the state in April, but the department has looked for ways to cope with the funding losses.

McMillan was the guest speaker at Business Before Hours hosted by the Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce at United Bank. He also spoke to the Flomaton Chamber of Commerce and to a gathering at Brewton’s Hourglass later in the day.

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The budget cuts that McMillan faced came as soon as he was sworn in as Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries caused problems in several areas. Layoffs were inevitable, but certain jobs had to be protected, he said.

“As soon as we were sworn in, we found out that our budget was going to be prorated 15 percent,” he said. “We wound up laying off hundreds of our 400 employees, which has impacted our ability to do a lot of things. Some of our programs we dropped all together including our rural investigators. We had 11 of those guys spread around the state to investigate equipment theft, cattle theft and other things. That’s an area we had to cut all together. The reason some places were cut more than others was that we felt we needed to protect those with private sector jobs that depended on the various sections of our agency.”

Private sector jobs include those who work for his administration, while working on the scene of a business.

“For example, we check food safety and food processing,” he said. “In the state, we have 40 meat processing plants, including Conecuh Sausage. For one of them to operate, a processor has to be on the premises at all times during the operations.”

A larger problem came out of nowhere during the tornado outbreak of April 27.

McMillan and his deputy commissioners went to work making sure that farmers received what they needed during the aftermath.

“Tornadoes are one the largest thing we have dealt with since taking office,” he said. “Wayne and I took about three weeks to travel around the state to meet with those primarily involved with chicken farmers and work with the USDA. I’d say that the federal and state officials did a great job, but the point I want to make is that the system worked.”

A current event that McMillan said he is keeping an eye on is the immigration bill that was passed by the Alabama legislature. The bill has its problems, but McMillan said he can see the reason for the bill as well.

“Something I’m really concerned about is the extremely comprehensive bill dealing with immigration,” he said. “I’m trying to get myself educated, so I can eventually work with the legislation to make changes. I definitely see some changes that will come. You will have to go back to the courthouse to verify who you are to renew your driver’s license or license plate. One thing I can tell you is that this piece of legislation will have a huge impact on farmers, because I can tell you if you are eating produce then an immigrant has touched it. The problem is we can’t have 50 different sets of laws to regulate this situation. I do see it on both sides though.”

Present with McMillan was Deputy Commissioner Wayne Walker.

The presence of the deputy commissioner allowed McMillan to praise the work that his deputy commissioners do with the administration.

“Wayne Walker is here with me and he is one of our deputy commissioners,” he said. “When we made it to Montgomery, we chose a few deputy commissioners for reasons of expertise they have to offer. Wayne has a long background in farming with cattle and chicken. That’s the type of people we brought to Montgomery, and it’s a good thing we did because we have our work cut out for us.”