Farmland preservation plan fails to garner support Proposal to boost size of program fails in Carroll

August 12, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown's ambitious proposal to nearly double the size of the county's farmland preservation program failed yesterday to win support from his fellow commissioners.

Commissioners Richard T. Yates and Donald I. Dell were troubled by the cornerstone of the proposal, an 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 equal $3.4 million.

"I'm in favor of funding agricultural preservation. I just don't like doing it by ordinance," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell.

Dell said he would consider holding a public hearing on the ordinance. He asked that the commissioners discuss the proposal with the Department of Management and Budget before making that decision.

He also requested that he be able to meet privately with Brown.

"I'd like to discuss it with you just you and I for a little bit," he told Brown, adding, "Maybe that's not legal."

Dell apparently will be the deciding vote on the proposal. Yates made it clear that he was against the proposal and a public hearing. He would prefer to have a referendum on agricultural preservation.

"If the majority of people don't want it, we're just banging our heads against the wall," Yates said. "I'd like to have the people answer that question. Not the politicians."

Instead of the ordinance, Yates recommended that the county continue to lobby the legislature for an increase of 1 percentage point -- to 4 percent -- in the transfer-tax assessed on all real estate settlements to pay for agricultural land preservation. The county's previous efforts to increase the tax have failed.

Brown pleaded with the commissioners to reconsider their positions. He reminded them that the county is not on schedule to meet its goal of preserving 100,000 acres by 2020.

The county has preserved nearly 29,000 acres. At current funding levels, it would take the county about 35 years to reach 100,000 acres.

"Do we want to ensure that we meet that goal?" asked Brown.

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

About $3.5 million would come from the county and the other $3.5 million would come from state matching funds and the Rural Legacy program. 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.

Pub Date: 8/12/98

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