BALLSTON SPA -- Dealing with government bureaucracy could soon get more complicated for Charles Hanehan and hundreds of other Saratoga County farmers.
Hanehan, a full-time dairy farmer in the town of Saratoga for nearly four decades, said that, in a typical year, he pays half a dozen visits to the Farm Service Agency office in Ballston Spa.
The agency administers U.S. Department of Agriculture programs.
Its local office shares space with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. Down the hall is the county's Soil and Water Conservation District, the planning department and a branch of the agriculture-focused Cornell Cooperative Extension.
"It's a rare event I go down to FSA and don't end up talking to one or more of the other services," Hanehan said after a recent visit to the office. "It's like one-stop shopping."
The Ballston Spa FSA office is among 131 the federal government is proposing to close nationwide. The plan calls for merging the office with one in Greenwich that serves Washington and Warren counties.
Closing the Ballston Spa office, which has two employees, would save $17,500 in rent each year.
A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Feb. 7 at 50 West High St.
The proposal is an unpopular one with many who farm in Saratoga County, where the number of farms is increasing, bucking a statewide trend.
Farmers would still need to visit Ballston Spa for the other agricultural offices, which would remain. That includes the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service office.
"Having the offices there gives Saratoga County agriculture a focal point," said Patricia Wood, who farms in Northumberland and Saratoga. "In Ballston Spa, they're very familiar with all of their producers. They're very efficient."
The county Board of Supervisors has approved a resolution opposing the closure, noting the local office distributed $712,345 in federal funds to farmers last year and oversees about $325,000 in loans annually.
"It's not like we're a county where agriculture is in the decline," said Charlton Supervisor Alan Grattidge, a self-described "hobby farmer" who sponsored the resolution. "We have a very active farming community here. We really don't think it's the best move for them to do this."
According to the USDA's Census of Agriculture, Saratoga County gained 49 farms between 2002 and 2007, increasing 8 percent, from 592 to 641. The number of farms statewide fell by 2 percent over the same period.
The market value of Saratoga County crops jumped 75 percent between 2002 and 2007 to $58.2 million, according to the USDA.
Washington County had 843 farms in 2007, down from 887 five years prior. Warren County jumped from 72 farms in 2002 to 86 in 2007.
Steve Ropitzky, Saratoga County's FSA executive director, said his office sees at least 500 of Saratoga County's farmers each year. If the office closes, some farmers in western Saratoga County will be closer to the Montgomery County office, located in Fultonville, than to Greenwich.
The closure was proposed in January as part of a cost-cutting plan offered by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The office is one of four targeted for closure in New York. The other three are in Albany, Sullivan and Yates counties.
Offices targeted were those staffed by two or fewer people or those located geographically close to other offices.
Saratoga County's office has two workers, Ropitzky and program technician Joanne Scoville. A third employee left last May and was not replaced.
The Ballston Spa and Greenwich offices are slightly more than 20 miles apart.
Jim Barber, New York's FSA director, said it is not clear exactly when the offices would shut their doors if the proposal goes through.
He said all comments at the public hearing will be forwarded to Washington, and the government will decide whether to go forward with the closure no sooner than 90 days after the hearing.
Comments can be submitted in writing up to 10 days after the hearing, Barber said.