County PTA Council delegates had differing views Monday on a state legislator's proposal to divert approximately $7 million from agricultural preservation to the county government's general fund.
State Delegate Virginia Thomas, D-13A, is sponsoring a bill that would allowCounty Executive Charles I. Ecker to tap up to 50 percent of the estimated $13.4 million that will be in the county's agricultural preservation fund as of Jan. 1.
The money, which could be available as early as February 1992, could be applied toward a $9.5 million deficit projected for the current year's budget or added to the county's general fund for the 1992-1993 budget.
Connie Matheson, PTA president at Howard High School, liked Thomas' idea. "I don't see how we can keep taking cuts and not take advantage of this money that's just sitting there," she said.
Virginia Charles, delegate from Hammond Elementary, had some reservations. "I guess I have some problems with raiding this fund and not giving the executive other options for revenues," she said.
Thomas replied that the delegation would hear comments on a hotel-motel tax. Ecker has not asked for telephone or utility taxes, she said.
The PTA council did not take an official position on the plan.
Thomas debated her proposal at Monday night's PTA council meeting with John W. Musselman, chief of the county's agricultural preservation division. She told one questioner she would not earmark the money diverted from agricultural preservation for education because she believes it should go into the county general fund.
She also resisted a paybackprovision that Musselman said would make the diversion more acceptable to county farmers. She said repayment doesn't have to be in the bill, and suggested that the executive and council could do that voluntarily.
Thomas said she was convinced her bill would not hurt the agricultural preservation program.
County Budget Director Raymond S. Wacks estimated that the fund will grow to approximately $17 million this year before money is taken out to buy development rights. Farmers who need cash but want to keep their land in agriculture can selldevelopment rights to the county. Recent sales have been about $6,000 an acre, Musselman said.
Pressed to say whether Thomas' bill would hurt the program, Musselman said, "It will hurt the image in the mind of the farmer. We spent a lot of time building that confidence inthe farm community." He said if the county was required to repay themoney later, he did not think the program would suffer.