Tax would save land Plan to aid preservation in real estate transfers draws forum reaction

October 21, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Only one issue prompted public comment at the Carroll County commissioners' annual forum on legislative proposals: an increase in the real estate transfer tax.

The commissioners want to increase from 3 percent to 4 percent the transfer tax assessed on all real estate settlements.

The revenue would help pay for the preservation of agricultural land.

If the transfer tax bill is approved by the General Assembly, the proposal would be subject to a referendum on the November 2000 ballot. Asked whether the legislation would pass in Annapolis, Commissioner Richard T. Yates shrugged his shoulders.

"I've been in office for four years, and every year we've asked the General Assembly to put this on the ballot," said Yates, who supports the measure.

"It hasn't happened yet. The delegation seems to think if they pass the bill, they impose a tax. This being an election year "

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he was "neutral" on the real estate transfer tax, and "won't oppose it."

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, who has proposed an ordinance that would designate 10 cents of the county's property tax rate to agricultural preservation, did not attend the forum and could not be reached yesterday.

The commissioners dedicated $2.2 million to preservation in the county budget this year, but they are looking for $4 million more from the transfer tax proposal, Yates said.

The agriculture preservation program allows the county to purchase development rights from farmers who want to continue working the land but need money for operating costs.

An appraisal determines the land value, which averages about $2,000 an acre.

The county's goal is to preserve about 100,000 acres by 2020.

Since it began the program in 1978, Carroll has preserved nearly 29,000 acres but is losing 1,800 acres a year to development.

Now moving at 35-year pace

At current funding levels, it would take the county about 35 years to reach 100,000 acres.

"If you're going to get more money for farm preservation, I'm all for that," Albert L. Liebno Sr. told the commissioners. "What I'm against is paying these people and then letting them do things on the land that have nothing to do with farming."

Liebno has complained to state and county officials about paintball battles that are held regularly on a 34-acre farm just south of Taneytown, charging that the games violate the spirit of the preservation program.

The state Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation will decide whether recreational activities are appropriate on preservation land.

Liebno and his wife were the only citizens to attend last night's forum at the County Office Building.

The legislative proposals that have been suggested by the commissioners will be presented to Carroll's six-member delegation next month.

ZTC

Other proposals

In addition to the referendum on a real estate transfer tax, the commissioners have asked state lawmakers to pass the following legislation:

An amendment to an existing law that would authorize the Board of License Commissioners to suspend a liquor license and impose a fine when a licensee violates license laws. The board now must choose a fine or suspension, but cannot impose both.

An amendment to a law that would increase the fee for a special and temporary beer, wine and liquor license to $50 a day.

An amendment to a law that would allow the commissioners to forgo the formal bidding process for contracts of $25,000 or less. The bidding process now is required on all contracts exceeding $12,000.

Legislation enabling the county Health Department to enforce its nuisance-abatement orders.

Pub Date: 10/21/98

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