Officials preserve 244 acres Farmland program is enhanced

June 06, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The County Commissioners put 244 more rural acres into an agricultural preservation district yesterday.

The inclusion of two northwest county farms in a preservation district concluded a legislative day in which the commissioners approved a 10-year solid-waste management plan, introduced legislation that would lower the discount given for advance payment of property taxes and offered billing credits to residents who use public water sparingly.

Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Donald I. Dell hailed the inclusion of a 130-acre Keysville farm and a 114-acre Walnut Grove farm in a preservation district as a sign of things to come in Carroll.

The message to farmers, Brown said, is that "they don't have to sell lots [to developers] to get money for their equity."

Brown and Dell put $4 million --$1.2 million in state funds, $2.8 million in county money -- in the fiscal 1997 budget to preserve agricultural land.

'Spending wisely'

"We're going to be spending our money wisely in acquiring these development rights," Dell said. "We're going to use it to the best advantage in the county."

The money earmarked for the two farms -- $296,755 -- will come from the fiscal 1996 budget.

Creation of the preservation district is the first step to keep the farms out of development.

Next, the commissioners must buy a five-year easement option on the farms -- something they expect to do later this month.

The Keysville option is expected to cost $156,877. The Walnut Grove option is expected to cost $139,877.

How program works

The purchase of the easement options under what is called a "critical farms program" is the county's way of preserving farms that are being sold.

Begun in 1993, the program makes it possible for contract purchasers or buyers who have owned a farm less than a year to enter the state agricultural preservation program -- a process that usually takes five years.

Fearing that buyers would subdivide their land rather than wait five years to enter the state program, the county decided to buy easement options at a price equal to 75 percent of what the state would offer. In time, the owners could sell their easements to the state, usually at a higher amount, allowing the county to recoup its option.

Since its inception, the county program has preserved nine farms, or 1,029 acres.

Although the critical farms program will continue, county officials expect to use most of the $4 million in the 1997 budget for easement purchases in which the county pays 100 percent of the easement assessment to qualified farmers.

Altogether, the county has used state and county programs to keep 24,131 acres out of development. The goal is to preserve 100,000 acres.

The 114-acre Walnut Grove farm, purchased by Stuart and Sandra Peterson, will become part of a 366-acre preservation area.

The 130-acre Keysville farm, purchased by Roger and Nancy Eyler, will become part of a 505-acre preservation area.

Water bill credits

In other action, Commissioner Richard T. Yates said that awarding a credit of $6.25 per quarter on water and sewer bills for residents who use less than 10,000 gallons of water "will help people on fixed incomes, people who live alone, and husbands and wives who are small users of water."

"It will let the rest of the folks know that if they conserve water, they can get the savings themselves," he said.

The rebate is projected to cost the county $60,000.

Property tax discount

The county could save $300,000 if the commissioners vote to lower the discount for residents who pay their property taxes early.

Residents who pay the full amount before July 31 will receive a discount of one-half of 1 percent under the proposed legislation, compared to the 1 percent that property owners receive for paying in full by the end of July.

No one testified for or against the proposal at yesterday's public hearing.

The commissioners are expected to pass the proposal in about two weeks.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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