Balto. Co. to consider plan to save farmland Hayden will submit legislation to council

March 29, 1993|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden says he will introduce legislation to the County Council to create a farmland preservation program.

The program would bring the county into conformance with new state regulations, although officials say they doubt it would be used much unless state agricultural preservation funds dry up.

Since 1980, the county has participated in a state farmland preservation program that buys development rights to agricultural land. The state puts up 60 percent of the purchase price and the county the other 40 percent.

Money for the state program comes from the agricultural land transfer tax. The tax is paid whenever farmland is sold or transferred for a use other than farming.

The county collects the tax and, since 1990, has been allowed by state law to keep 75 percent of the money. The county uses the money for its 40 percent share whenever development rights to a local farm are purchased through the state program.

The program is designed so that farmers can realize equity in their farmland without pressure to develop it. On most of Baltimore County's 12,000 acres of farmland, zoning laws severely limit potential development.

But the state told participating counties that to continue to keep their 75 percent of the transfer tax, they had to create their own program.

In fiscal 1992, which ended June 30, the county collected $349,626 in transfer taxes and retained $254,953. About 400 farm acres changed use that year.

The local program would allow the county to purchase development rights to local farms without going through the state.

But most likely, the local program would not be used unless a state agricultural preservation program closes, said Wally Lippincott, the county's farmland preservation administrator.

The state program has slowed down in recent years as funds have been siphoned off to help balance Maryland's budget.

In Baltimore County, no farm development rights have been purchased since fiscal year 1990. Mr. Lippincott said four local farms are under consideration by the state, and the county has recommended another 7 acres.

One main difference between the local and state programs, Mr. Lippincott said, is that the county program could speed up the process of preserving farmland.

It also would allow farms as small as 50 acres to be in the county program, compared to a 100-acre state minimum. In addition, the local program would make cropland a main target for preservation. The state program treats cropland, pastureland, forest and open space equally.

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