Proposal would nearly double farmland preservation program Brown wants to set aside 3,500 acres per year

July 23, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown outlined an aggressive plan yesterday to nearly double the county's farmland preservation program -- a plan he says is crucial if Carroll is to reach its goal of preserving 100,000 acres by 2020.

Under his proposal, county and state annual spending on Carroll's preservation program would grow to about $7 million, up from current spending of about $4 million.

The money would allow the county to permanently set aside 3,500 acres of farmland a year, 1,500 acres more than it is able to preserve now.

"It's the most important goal we have. I believe there is a race between our desire to purchase it vs. [builders'] ability to develop it," Brown said yesterday during a presentation to the commissioners.

The county is struggling to stay ahead in that race, Brown said.

Since the program was created in 1979, nearly 29,000 acres have been preserved. Another 18,000 acres are in agricultural preservation districts -- the first step toward permanent preservation. At current funding levels, it would take the county about 35 years to reach its goal.

Brown's goal of preserving 3,500 acres a year is not as ambitious as the goal outlined in the county's new master plan, which recommended 3,750 acres a year. Brown said that figure was "too aggressive."

He said the county's disappointing experience with the state's $29 million Rural Legacy program, part of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth initiative, prompted him to make his proposal. The county asked for $8 million in Rural Legacy funding to preserve 4,000 acres in Little Pipe Creek, and received $1.5 million.

"We can't depend on Rural Legacy," he said.

But the county can depend on its own resources, he said.

The cornerstone of Brown's plan is a proposed ordinance that would earmark 10 cents of the county's property tax rate -- $2.62 per $100 of assessed value -- for agricultural preservation. Next year, that would be equal to $3.4 million.

Funding from Maryland would come from state matching funds and the Rural Legacy program.

Brown recommended the county propose a legislative initiative to require a dollar-for-dollar state match for county money allocated for preservation. That would mean that as the county's financial commitment to the program grew, so would the state's, he said.

Brown's proposal will be discussed in two weeks by the County Commissioners.

It is likely to encounter some opposition by Commissioner Richard T. Yates, who said he would like to have a better understanding of the public's opinion on agricultural land preservation.

"I'd like to see it on a referendum. Do they really want it?" he asked.

Brown assured him that that they do.

"There has been broad support of the program," he said, adding that new residents are drawn to Carroll by its farmland.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell asked that the county investigate the long-term impact of the 10-cent property tax allocation. He suggested raising funds through bonds rather than property taxes.

"I'm not disagreeing with it. I'm not sure if the mechanics are right," Dell said.

William K. Powel III, director of the county's agricultural preservation program, had not reviewed the proposal yesterday. However, he said that more money would obviously help the program. A number of farmers who want to preserve their land permanently cannot because the county runs out of money, he said.

Pub Date: 7/23/98

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