Planners Introduce Bid To Preserve Farm Acreage

Proposal Offers Incentive To Resist Development

February 16, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

County planners will introduce a proposal this spring to enable Harford farmers to get cash from the county government for agreeing to prohibit development on their farms.

The Installment Purchase Agreement Plan would give farmers an incentive to keep their land for agricultural uses, say plan supporters.

Harford planners say the plan promotes purchasing development rights on agricultural land as a way to stem development in rural areas and save farming from extinction.

The proposal is expected to be part of the forthcoming rural element plan, which planners are drafting to help preserve rural areas.

The county's establishment of a rights purchase policy for agricultural land has been endorsed by the Harford Farm Bureau and the Deer Creek Scenic River Advisory Board, which was appointed by County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.

The advisory board sent a letter to Rehrmann, the County Council and Harford's legislative delegation in favor of the plan.

"Up until now, the major market for the farmer is the developer," said Monroe I. Duke, chairman of the Deer Creek advisory board.

"This would provide him with another option."

The installment purchase agreement plan willbe discussed at a Deer Creek Watershed Association meeting at 7:30 p.m. March 2, at Highland Commons in Street.

The program would be similar to one in effect in Howard County, where about 60 purchase agreements worth $35 million have been settled as of 1991.

Harford hopes to preserve 30,000 acres of farmland under the program. The county has already placed 21,000 acres in the state agricultural preservation program.

The proposed program would replace the state program,whose funds are nearly exhausted.

Over the last two years, Gov. William Donald Schaefer has taken about $23 million from the program to cover the budget deficit.

Under Harford's proposed purchase agreements, the county would buy a farmer's "development rights" at a price determined by the land's agricultural value, which would be on average about $2,500 per acre.

The county would sell 20-year bonds equaling the land's value and then pay the farmer annual, tax-free installments for the interest of the bond, said Stoney Fraley, the countychief of comprehensive planning.

At the end of the 20-year period, the farmer would receive the principal of the bond, agreeing to a property easement that prohibits development, Fraley said.

The proposal would benefit farmers by providing them with another source of income, and the county would not need to shell out large amounts of money at once to keep farmland out of development, Fraley said.

The county executive wants to subsidize the program through a new 1 percent property transfer tax, now under consideration by the General Assembly.

The tax also must be approved by the County Council.

The transfer tax is expected to raise about $4 million annually. The money would be used to build schools and agricultural preservation.

"Hopefully, (the program) will keep a property in agricultural production," said Donald Hoopes, president of the county farm bureau.

"Butit not only benefits farmers; it benefits everyone as a whole."

Duke, of the Deer Creek advisory board, agreed.

"To say farmland isirreplaceable is a very mild statement," he said. "These things are disappearing fast. They will go out from under us if we don't pay close enough attention."

MEETING SET

The Installment Purchase Agreement Plan will be discussed at a Deer Creek Watershed Association meeting at 7:30 p.m. March 2 at Highland Commons in Street.

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