Council Rejects 55-acre Parcel For Farm Preservation Program

January 08, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

The County Council rejected Monday night a 55-acre parcel for inclusion in the county's farmland preservation program -- the second such holding it has turned down after years of rubber-stamping property submissions.

They could have turned down more.

Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, wanted to table for at least 30 days bills that would have added five parcels totaling 408 acres to the program.

Pendergrass told her colleagues she is "very concerned with the fiscal crisis going on in the county" and the fact that the county may lose another $8.2 million in state aid.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced a $8.2 million cut last month, but theGeneral Assembly may restore the funds and cut elsewhere. If the cuts remain, the county's deficit for fiscal 1992 would be $23 million.

What Pendergrass preferred, she said, was for the county to usea portion of its farmland preservation money to offset state cuts. The county should cut and use the same percentage from its $15 million farmland balance that the state slashes in county aid, Pendergrass said.

After her motion failed for lack of a second, Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, moved that the property owned by Ruby C. Justice andFaith E. Hitchings be dropped from consideration.

Feaga, who is afarmer, said he walked the property earlier in the day and felt it should be dropped because "not more than 20 to 25 percent" is tillableground. The average farm is 60 percent tillable, he said.

CouncilChairman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, supported Feaga, but for a different reason. Farragut felt the parcel was too small for inclusion sinceit is not adjacent to another property already in the program. Farragut and Darrel Drown, R-2nd, are co-sponsors of a bill that, if enacted, will increase to 100 acres the size of parcels eligible for submission to the program.

The council voted, 4-1, to drop the Justice-Hitchings property while approving the other four parcels. In November, the council rejected a 50-acre parcel submitted by Henry Marshall of Highland for similar reasons. Farragut said after the meeting thathe saw no fiscal problem with funding the four properties the council brought into the program Monday.

What he is concerned about, he said, is assuring that the county preserves the best land possible. He said the next batch of properties seeking admission to the program will total more than 4,000 acres. "We need to prioritize very carefully," he said.

In return for easement rights to the property, participants are paid tax-free interest on the purchase price for 30 years. The purchase price is then paid in a lump sum.

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