Despite questions about a 1989 agreement with the county, about 95 farmers will be eligible for thousands of dollars' worth of bonuses for putting their land into the state's agricultural land preservation program.
The Carroll County Commissioners voted yesterday to honor the agreement, which rewards those who preserve their land by paying them a percentage of the value of the development rights, in addition to money they receive from the state for entering the program. The agreement could cost the county up to $1.05 million.
Under the agreement, the county pays landowners 5 percent of the value of the development rights when they commit themselves to the agricultural-preservation program and an additional 5 percent when the sale of the development rights to the state is complete.
The county eliminated the incentive program in 1991, when county and state funds for agricultural preservation dwindled. During its existence, 163 landowners became eligible for incentives. More than 60 landowners have received all of their incentives.
The remaining landowners, about 95, have received bonuses for committing themselves to the program but are awaiting the sale of their development rights to the state to receive the final bonus payment. Landowners must wait at least five years before selling the rights to the state.
The county's Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board recommended eliminating the incentive program, arguing that the money would be better spent preserving farmland in other ways.
The county spends about $4 million a year on farmland preservation. William R. Powel III, who oversees the county's agricultural-preservation program, said paying all of the remaining incentives could cost the county up to $1.05 million.
Some farmers might choose not to sell easements to the state, so the price could be less, he said.
Because the 1989 agreement was not legally binding, the county could pull out of its end of the bargain, Powel said.
But the county commissioners unanimously agreed that the credibility of the county was at stake if they did not follow through on the incentive program.
"We should ride this thing out," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "There was a commitment made."
Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said, "We need people to have confidence in the program."
The county's goal is to preserve 100,000 acres of farmland by 2020. More than 200 farms have entered the program, protecting 25,000 acres.
Since it began in 1977, the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program has purchased easements on more than 128,000 acres of farmland, more than any other state.
Maryland has about 14,400 farms totaling 2.2 million acres.
Pub Date: 4/23/98