Cecil County to Pay Big Bucks for Farm Preservation Easement
Cecil County will pay a private landowner for a Rising Sun-area farm preservation easement, the first installment of up to $2 million in new local government-paid incentives to preserve farmland.
During a worksession Tuesday, County Commissioners briefly reviewed the proposal to purchase an easement on a 152 acre farm on Route 274 near Rising Sun. The proposal, which has been pending before the commissioners since May, was formally introduced at the evening commissioners’ meeting, with a vote expected in two weeks.
The property is owned by Jacob and Virginia Carson, who plan to sell the farm to an Amish family but want to ensure it is preserved as farmland for the future. They will obtain money from the actual sale and also money from the preservation easement, which will be funded by federal and county money.
The resolution prepared for the Commissioners to introduce at their evening meeting listed total cost of the easement at $550,770, including $12,770 in acquisition costs and fees. The Cecil Land Trust has now obtained approval for federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program funds in the amount of $244,000. That amount will be turned over to Cecil County to reimburse part of the up-front costs paid by the county.
The county funds will be drawn from revenues obtained from recordation fees, which are paid to the county when real estate is sold. The County Commissioners had previously approved legislation to pay up to $1 million from such fees for ‘purchase of development rights’ to preserve farmland.
However, the county is also using revenues from recordation fees to pay for general operating expenses in the current Fiscal 2012 budget. County Budget Director Craig Whiteford advised commissioners several months ago that recordation fees are running vastly below budget, due to the poor economy and the housing market slump.
The current County Commissioners have also approved expenditure of another $1 million for farmland preservation out of “impact aid” revenues generated by the Hollywood Casino in Perryville.
The Carson farmland preservation project has been advanced by Bill Kilby, head of the Cecil Land Trust, who first presented the proposal to the county Commissioners last May. At that time, he asked the county to come up with $600,000 to pay for the easement up front, with only a hope that some federal aid might eventually be provided to reimburse the county for some of the costs.
At the time, Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) objected, saying there was too little information, minimal written documentation including appraisals, and vague assurances of how much and when the county might receive partial reimbursement from state or federal agencies.
Commissioners James Mullin (R-1), Diana Broomell (R-4) and Michael Dunn (R-3) were ready to go ahead with the project, which could have put taxpayers on the hook for over $414,000. But Hodge insisted more documentation was needed.
[See previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/05/cecil-county-farm-plan-could-put-county-on-a-414k-hook/
Subsequently, an appraisal showed the easement was worth significantly less than Kilby proposed the county should pay for it. Then, a follow-up survey added a few more acres to the property, and the appraisal was slightly increased but still came in at much less than Kilby initially wanted the county to pay.
All told, the questions raised about the project saved taxpayers a significant sum.
In other action, Mullin offered a candidate for the county Planning Commission that drew no objections from other commissioners. He proposed appointment of William Miners, a former Chesapeake City town commissioner, to replace Randy Taylor, who resigned from the panel. Mullin said Miners also served on the WILMAPCO regional planning agency and was “a good guy.”
Additionally, Hodge proposed Tuesday that the county create a broadband advisory commission as part of a “next step for economic development.” He noted that the lack of readily accessible high-speed Internet access was just as important to getting business to locate in Cecil County as utilities infrastructure such as water and sewer services.
Especially in more rural areas of the county, highspeed Internet access is often an intermittent dream. Hodge said that the new panel should focus on business but also residential usage of the Internet. He noted many businesses rely on telecommuters, and the lack of reliable highspeed Internet access to residential customers was also a business-related matter.