Residents divided on farm bill

November 22, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

Consensus seemed wanting at a public hearing yesterday on Carroll County's proposed right-to-farm ordinance, but the county commissioners said they still intend to vote on it before leaving office next month.

While farmers insisted -- as they have since the regulation was proposed nearly five years ago -- that the ordinance would protect both the agricultural and residential communities, residents whose homes were invaded this past summer by flies -- which they blamed on operations at nearby egg farms -- rejected that notion.

They also questioned the need for such legislation in the first place.

The ordinance, first proposed by the 1990 Future of Agriculture committee, is designed to reduce complaints against farmers by suburban neighbors bothered by smells and noises.

"I can't understand what this all came out of," said Bachman Valley resident Linda Lewis. "You [farmers] have all the liberty in the world to do what you want."

In an impassioned plea to Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Elmer C. Lippy, she and her husband, Norm Lewis, said federal, state and local organizations had given them no relief from the fly problem this past summer and they didn't intend to start trusting such agencies now.

"I don't believe in Santa Claus," Mrs. Lewis said, referring to a section of the proposed ordinance that says a health department officer may rely on the professional opinion of the Carroll County Extension Service to determine whether a farm is being run according to accepted agricultural practices.

"From the bottom of my heart, we tried everything and they laughed at us," said Mrs. Lewis, who was unable to open a horse training academy this summer.

"Now how . . . can I go home and still live there?" she added.

Mr. Lewis' remarks went even further, claiming that county officials should advertise that they don't want residents, only farmers, in Carroll County.

"If residential growth is not desirable, we'll take our taxes elsewhere," he said. "But if you think you're going to run Carroll County on the revenue from agriculture, you're mistaken.

"You need to realize new people coming into this county pay your salaries, for this room, the electric light and the roads these farmers drive on."

In response, supporters of the legislation pointed out that this ordinance does not void existing health regulations.

In addition, it provides a forum for farmers and residents to discuss problems and resolve them before they develop into litigation.

A three-member volunteer board -- consisting of a farmer, a nonfarmer and a third unbiased individual -- would hear complaints and try to devise a solution.

But the proposed ordinance does not deny either party the right to sue in Carroll County Circuit Court.

"Court is not the best place to settle an argument," said Bob Sears, a resident who spoke in favor of the ordinance.

This was made for having a hearing board to talk [problems] over. If you talk to the people who might be the cause of the problem, you can usually find a way to get along," he said.

Supporters also noted that a farm operation does not require as many services from the county government as a residential development.

Recent statistics from the American Farmland Trust show that a farm requires 30 percent to 40 percent of its tax contribution in services, while a home on a 1-acre property requires 125 percent to 135 percent of its contribution, said Melvin Baile Jr., a New Windsor farmer.

"Farmland is not vacant," Mr. Baile said. "We do contribute to the economy of this county."

Neither party denied that some farmers are not considerate of their neighbors.

"We have good farmers and bad farmers, large and small," said Taneytown hog farmer Albert Liebno, noting that some farmers in his area have accidentally dropped manure in the roads.

"Farmers need some protection," he said.

"But some are in a big hurry and don't consider the little things. It's the little things that cause the problems," he added.

Commissioner Lippy said he was convinced this type of legislation would encourage farmers to keep an eye on each other to present a positive image.

"I can tell you that the farmers will monitor each other," Mr. Lippy said. "They aren't going to let a vagrant farmer scoff at the law and get away with it. They aren't that type.'

Commissioners Dell and Lippy said the record will remain open for comments for the next 10 days.

After that, the board of commissioners will schedule a session to discuss yesterday's hearing and to vote on the proposed ordinance.

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