Two bills designed to channel more money into the Maryland farmland preservation program completed their journeys through the General Assembly yesterday and are awaiting the governor's approval.
The first bill, sponsored by Sen. Larry E. Haines, would raise the percentage of real estate transfer taxes diverted into the preservation program.
The second bill, submitted by Del. Joseph M. Getty, would return the Agricultural Land Preservation program to an annual application cycle, rather than state officials accepting them twice a year.
Proponents have argued that such an approach would save the program money and be more efficient.
Farmers said that the twice-a-year applications put them in situations where they would need to re-appraise their land for the second cycle before they had heard whether their properties had been accepted in the first cycle.
The application process normally takes 10 months.
"We feel this money would be better used in purchasing acreage," said Mr. Getty, a Manchester Republican, at a March 31 Senate committee hearing on the bill.
In the farmland preservation program, properties are appraised to determine their agricultural value and what they would be worth if developed.
To preserve a property, the state purchases an easement -- the difference between those two values -- and the farmer agrees to keep the property as farmland forever.
In addition, participating farmers often receive some tax benefits for selling the easements.
Mr. Getty's bill currently is under review, said Charles F. Porcari, a spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
But the governor's office does not expect any problems with it and the governor is expected to support it, Mr. Porcari said.
The proposal by Mr. Haines, a Westminster Republican, would directly increase the amount of money in the Agricultural Land Preservation Fund by increasing its share of money from transfer taxes to 14.5 percent from 13.2 percent.
A conference committee of three senators and three delegates worked out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill Saturday night, Mr. Haines said yesterday.
Program Open Space also receives transfer tax money to purchase recreational land. The Heritage Conservation Fund uses its portion of the money to preserve wetlands and other habitats for endangered species.
Under Mr. Haines' proposal, Program Open Space would receive 83.5 percent of the money and the Heritage Fund would get 2 percent.
Both houses also accepted the conference committee's recommendation to reject a Senate proposal that would have allowed counties to use Program Open Space money for farmland preservation if they chose.
Mr. Haines' proposal is being reviewed by the governor's office, Mr. Porcari said. The governor does not have a position on the bill.
l,.5l In other agricultural news, Carroll Del. Donald B. Elliott's bill to form a dairy task force passed the Senate last week by a 46-0 vote.
The bill, which is vastly different from Mr. Elliott's original proposal, calls for a 17-member commission to study the future of Maryland's dairy industry.
The commission would include two delegates, two senators, several representatives of the farming community, two people who package dairy products, two citizens and various economic development advisers.
Mr. Elliott, a New Windsor Republican, originally intended the bill to establish a dairy commission that would require farmers to be paid a specific price for raw milk.
Governor Glendening had supported the idea of a statewide milk commission earlier in the session and is expected to sign this version of the bill, Mr. Porcari said.