State funds may protect more farms

March 28, 1995|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

The slow pace at which Carroll County was forced to move in preserving farmland in recent years may pick up soon, according to the administrator of the county Agricultural Land Preservation Program.

Some good news came last week, when the Maryland Board of Public Works announced that the state would contribute money to buy the development rights to three Carroll farms, which total 404 acres.

The farms are in Westminster, Middleburg and Detour.

A bill related to agricultural land, which won preliminary Senate approval last night, also could mean more money for Carroll to buy development rights, called easements, said Carroll's farmland program administrator, Bill Powel.

"If the legislation passes in the state, we expect more money by fiscal year 1997," which would begin in July 1996, Mr. Powel said.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Westminster Republican, would increase the percentage of real estate transfer tax money allocated to farmland preservation to 22.4 percent from 13.2 percent.

Mr. Powel said the increase could mean $100,000 more per year for the county.

The agriculture preservation program allows farmers to profit from their land without selling it to developers.

In a statement announcing that the state would buy easements on the three Carroll farms, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said, "Agriculture is critical to Maryland's economic future.

This is added evidence that we have a strong group of dedicated farm families who are committed to agriculture."

Carroll leads the state and the nation in preserving farmland. The county has preserved about 20,000 acres in permanent easements and another 20,000 acres in five-year districts. After five years, a farmer in a district may sell development rights to the state or leave the preservation program.

The largest contiguous tracts of preserved land are in western and northwestern Carroll. County officials have said they want to preserve 100,000 acres, about one-third of Carroll's land area, to keep farming viable.

Helen L. Rickell of the 1800 block of Ridge Road near Westminster was one of the three farmers who received an offer from the state last week to sell her development rights. She said her family has been working the 172-acre farm for more than 50 years.

She and her daughters raise beef cattle, grain, corn and hay. They rent some of the land to other farmers.

Mrs. Rickell said she and her daughters want to preserve the land because their livelihood is important to them. "We just like farming," she said.

L The state offered her about $2,200 per acre for an easement.

The recession and the state budget crunch has made it hard to preserve farmland for four years, Mr. Powel said, so many farmers became discouraged and did not apply to the program.

"The biggest change in the program is, we get very few new farms. They realize how many people they're going to have to bid against," Mr. Powel said.

In fiscal years 1991 and 1992, no land was preserved through the state program because officials raided the agriculture land preservation budget for money to use elsewhere. The program lost $23 million those two years, Mr. Powel said. The state generally pays 60 percent of the easement price and the county pays 40 percent.

Because Carroll officials did not want to lose farms to development, the county government created a Critical Farms program in 1992. That program allows the county to give farmers interest-free loans while they try to get into the state preservation program.

Four farms have been accepted as critical farms and two are pending, Mr. Powel said.

In fiscal 1993, some state money became available for the original agriculture preservation program, and 10 Carroll farmers sold easements. By comparison, 19 farmers sold easements in fiscal 1983.

The three farms accepted last week were included in the fiscal 1994 budget. One other easement was sold in Carroll that year, Mr. Powel said.

In fiscal 1995, 33 farmers applied for inclusion in the program in the first half of the year and 24 applied in the second half of the year. Some of the more diligent farmers have been applying every six months since 1991, he said.

The other Carroll farmers who received state easement offers last week were:

* Gary L. Fosbaugh and Dorothy R. McAdams -- $115,733.50 for 116.7 acres on Myerly Lane in Detour. The offer amounts to about $1,000 per acre.

* Mark Gross -- $159,600 for 116 acres on the east side of Crouse Mill Road in Middleburg. The offer amounts to about $1,400 per acre.

The landowners have six months to accept the offers and settle.

In addition to Governor Glendening, the other Board of Public Works members are Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein and Treasurer Lucille Maurer.

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