The Carroll commissioners unanimously approved changes yesterday in how the county buys land preservation easements to make the process more inviting to property owners.
Responding to concerns raised about aspects of the state's preservation program, the commissioners voted to set aside, at least for some landowners, a requirement that they make a five-year commitment to not develop their land before the property can be placed into the preservation program.
That change would apply to properties for which the county pays the entire cost of the easement. In other cases, the county and the state pay portions of that cost.
County officials say the five-year commitment had deterred some farmers from selling their development rights.
Under the ordinance approved yesterday, properties whose easements are acquired through county money only would be placed on permanent preservation within a year - and without a buyback option to the landowner after 25 years that is part of the state's program.
"I've had several elderly people say, `If I don't know what the price will be or if there will be money for the program, or whether there will be more competition and I won't get funded, I don't want to tie the farm up for five years,'" said Bill Powel, who is in charge of the county's preservation effort.
In Carroll County, 41,927 acres of farmland have been preserved at a cost of about $68 million in county, state and federal funds.
The county, which celebrated reaching the 40,000-acre milestone this month, is fifth among counties in the nation and second in the state in the number of agricultural acres preserved, according to The Farmland Preservation Report.
Another change allows the county to use a different method to pay farmers for easements.
The state pays for land easements in two ways under its program. The state either pays the landowner a lump sum or distributes the payment over 10 years, creating large tax burdens on sellers, Powel said
Instead, the county would use an installment purchase plan, which allows the government to pay for land over 20 years. The payments are tax-deferred until the final payment, Powel said.
The county has been using this installment purchase plan, but the adoption of the ordinance has formalized the policy, Powel said.