Sponsors Kill Bills To Reroute Farm-preservation Money

November 20, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

Sponsors of two General Assembly bills that would have taken money from the county's farmland-preservation program and applied it to other uses said yesterday they have abandoned their proposals.

Delegate Virginia M. Thomas, D-13A, said her bill to authorize County Executive Charles I. Ecker to take up to 50 percent of the money in the farmland-preservation fund as of Jan. 1 -- approximately $8 million -- and use it for other purposes is no longer needed.

Delegate Robert L. Flanagan, R-14B, said he is shelving his bill to remove restrictions from the county portion of the state transfer tax -- approximately $12 million a year -- and deposit that money directly into the general fund, because it could kill the farmland-preservation program.

Both bills were to be considered at a public hearing tonight in the county office building. What the county's General Assembly delegation will do instead, said delegation chairman Flanagan, is conduct a work session and vote on whether to bring 13 other local bills before the General Assembly in January.

Thomas said her bill is no longer needed since Ecker appears to have come up with answers to the county's budget crisis.

"It's kind of a shame we didn't find this out a couple of weeks ago," Thomas said. "I wouldn't havespent so much time on this if he hadn't created such a scare.

"Ifhe's correct, the county will be fine. If he's not correct, if he finds along about March that he needs an option, I'm only a phone call away."

Thomas said she had not discussed her bill with Ecker before preparing it.

Although it was attractive to teachers and county employees who thought it might provide them the raises they were forced to forgo in this year's budget, farmland preservationists objectedthat the bill could cripple the program.

Thomas said while she isopen to offering such a bill again, Ecker would have "to establish that the bill would not have a negative effect on the farmland program."

Flanagan said he offered his bill as an alternative to the Thomas bill after talking with Ecker. Since then, however, he became convinced that the bill would end the preservation program and add to thecounty's indebtedness.

The county uses the farmland capital to buy federal bonds that in 30 years will cover the purchase price of easements that will keep farmland from development. The county uses a portion of the transfer tax -- about $3 million a year -- to pay interest on the installment purchases.

Although both bills have been withdrawn, they have had the effect of raising the question of whether the county can afford a preservation program given its current fiscal crisis, Flanagan said.

Still being considered by the delegation are bills that would require developers seeking a zoning change to disclose campaign contributions made to zoning board members and a proposal that would impose a building excise tax on developers. The excise tax is deemed an essential part of the county's adequate-facilities legislation.

Other bills would allow liquor stores to sponsor wine-tasting events, allow county restaurant owners to hold more than one liquor license, grant a family day-care exemption in residential neighborhoods, provide state grants for historic buildings, authorize thecommunity college to borrow at tax-exempt rates, and prohibit "obscene live performances" in places where people "have paid a consideration of any type whatsoever to observe" them.

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