The county commissioners voted Tuesday to have an information session and a public hearing on a proposed program to provide up-front money to farmers to save "critical farms" from development.
Dates havenot been set but will be advertised.
The county program has been proposed to preserve farms that are on the market, could be sold as part of an estate settlement or could otherwise be lost to agriculture because the owner is experiencing "extreme financial hardship" that leaves no alternative other than selling residential lots.
A county purchasing program is necessary, say planners and farmers, because the state's Agricultural Land Preservation Program, which buys development rights to farms, has been decimated by budget reductions. The county's draft ordinance "is an outstanding program," said Commissioner President Donald I. Dell, a Westminster dairy and grain farmer who has preserved his land permanently inthe state's program.
Money to finance the county program will come from the agriculture transfer tax, assessed when agricultural land is converted to another use.
Because financing will be limited, the draft calls for ranking farms by priority. Those that are near other blocks of preserved farmland and those that have the highest development potential would be ranked as most "critical."
The county would enter into an option contract with a landowner for six years. The owner would be required to place his land in a preservation district,which precludes development. During the six years, the landowner must pursue selling development rights to the state. If the landowner isunsuccessful, the county would exercise its option.
In essence, the county would provide an interest-free loan of 75 percent of the easement value -- the difference between the property's fair market value and its agricultural value. If an easement is sold to the state, the county would be reimbursed.
Carroll leads the state in permanently preserved acreage with 151 farms totaling 20,150 acres.