Frederick Co. seeks more farmland preservation dollars

Frederick County is applying to the state for more money to permanently preserve farmland.

The Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to submit a report to the state that would qualify the county to seek a greater percentage of the Agricultural Transfer Tax it collects. The money is collected when farmland is no longer used for agricultural purposes.

The county first received certification in 2009, and will continue to receive the higher percentage — about 40 percent more — of money until July.

To continue beyond then, the county must apply for recertification.

“It’s a benefit for us to be certified … in order to preserve farmland in Frederick County,” Anne Bradley, the county’s land preservation program administrator, said after the meeting.

Without certification, the county would receive 33 percent of the money it collects. By going through the application process, which includes showing plans for expanded preservation efforts, the county can receive 75 percent of the tax. The rest of the funds go to the state.

Several years ago, the county set a goal of preserving 100,000 acres by 2020.

That goal will be tough to reach, Bradley said. She predicts the county will fall short by about 37,000 acres.

“Not meeting the goal is not going to impact funding from the state,” Bradley said.

The reason for the shortfall is that the money isn’t available to make significant purchases, she said.

In fiscal 2009, the county collected $1.1 million from the Agricultural Transfer Tax and received $828,759 as its share. In 2011, the numbers dipped to $68,329 collected and $51,247 kept locally.

“I think the demand is out there, but the money is not,” Eric Soter, the county’s community development division director, said at the meeting. “It’s still a good target over time.”

The county has made tremendous progress in preserving land, Commissioner David Gray said. Gray, a longtime proponent of preservation, said he was glad to see the county looking to recertify and receive additional funds from the state.

“We’re not abandoning that kind of commitment,” he said. “I’m confident that the county will have the desire and political will to continue with the farmland preservation program. It’s a valuable investment.

“It’s a one-way street. Once the land is developed, you can’t get it back.”

Mutual support

The commissioners put in writing Tuesday that they continue to support the City of Frederick’s pursuit of state funding for a downtown hotel and conference center.

There’s one caveat.

A memorandum of understanding signed by Commissioners President Blaine Young states that the city, county and state will cooperate on a plan with “no current or future formal financial obligation from the county.”

Young explained: “We do not want to be obstructing, but we wanted to spell it out loud and clear that we do not want county taxpayers involved in the hotel business.”

State lawmakers agreed last week to pursue $250,000 in state funds for the proposed hotel and conference center. The money would be used to make plans and entice a hotel company to build along Carroll Creek.

The proposal is preliminary. No location has been identified but seven potential downtown sites have been proposed.

The city and county agreed last week to the wording of the document signed by Young on Tuesday.


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