Councilman amends ethics disclosure

Bartenfelder says move corrects oversight on leased city farm land

May 19, 2010|By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder said Wednesday he has amended his most recent annual financial disclosure statement to include farmland his family has leased from Baltimore City since the 1960s.

Bartenfelder, a farmer and former teacher, said his family most recently paid $225 for a year's lease on the property— about 20 acres behind his home that is part of the Baltimore reservoir system. He acknowledged that omitting the lease information from required annual statements was an oversight, and he corrected it this week after receiving questions from a television reporter.

While he said the lease price is below his estimate of a market rate of about $50 per acre, he added that the value of the land for farming is limited because the city has the right to work on the land to maintain or improve pumps and other reservoir installations. He said the agreement allows the city to work anywhere on the land with 30 days' notice.

City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt said she is planning to review the lease, at the city's Fullerton Reservoir site, to make sure Bartenfelder is paying fair value.

A review of ethics forms going back to 2006 shows Bartenfelder disclosed two properties that he owns in the county and one on the Eastern Shore, but not the land he leases from the city. A Democratic councilman since 1994 who is running for county executive this year, Bartenfelder said he had not listed the lease agreement for land located off Ridge Road in Fullerton on the ethics form "because I was never aware it had to be on there. That's why I filed an addendum as soon as I found out. …There was nothing to hide about it."

Bartenfelder's family once owned the property but sold it to the city in the 1960s. He said he realized the lease had to be disclosed after he was questioned about the property by WBAL-TV reporter Jayne Miller. He said he filed the amendment with the Baltimore County Ethics Commission on Tuesday.

Bartenfelder said his family uses about 14 of the 20 acres to grow hay for his daughter's two horses, and they do not sell the hay. He said he does not believe the property has significant value for agriculture. "There's nobody that would take a lease to rent any farmland if [the city] would have a 30-day notice to start working" on the property, potentially destroying valuable crops, he said.

Pratt could not be reached for comment, but she told WBAL-TV for a story broadcast Wednesday evening that "we're taking a look at that lease right now, and we're going to be sure that the lessee is paying fair-market value."

Records show that in 2003, Bartenfelder signed a lease on the property with an annual rent of $804, but he said the city never executed the agreement.

Bartenfelder said he's one of several people holding leases on about 200 acres at the Fullerton site. He said the 20 acres was once owned by his family, and was bought by the city and leased back in an arrangement made by his family more than 40 years ago, when he was a boy. In exchange for maintaining the property, he said, the family was allowed to lease it back.

"That was with my father and grandfather," he said. "Eventually, of course, I ended up with it in the end."

City documents indicate that in addition to about 200 acres in Fullerton, Baltimore has owned more than 45,000 acres for a regional water system in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties.

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