BULLETIN: Cecil County Commish Vote to Spent $1.45M on McCoy Farm Preservation; Hodge, “Patriots” Oppose Deal
The Cecil County Commissioners voted to use county funds to purchase development rights on a large Rising Sun farm Tuesday, after several hours of often heated public comment led by members of the local tea party group that opposed giving taxpayer money to a landowner when there is no imminent threat of development of the property.
Advocates of farmland preservation, including former County Commissioner Phyllis Kilby, strongly supported the acquisition, which will be front-financed by the county government. (Kilby’s husband, Bill, heads the Cecil Land Trust that brokered the deal.) However, federal funds are expected to reimburse the county for about $720,000 of the cost, leaving the county paying a net cost of about $730,000.
Voting in favor of the purchase were the usual “Three Amigos” faction of the Cecil County Commissioners—Board President James Mullin (R-1) and Commissioners Diana Broomell (R-4) and Michael Dunn (R-3). Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2) abstained on the vote, saying she was “very concerned” that the property owner, Lowell McCoy, might not have seen the text of a contract between federal authorities and the Cecil Land Trust.
But Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) voted “no,” saying that while he generally supported the concept of farmland preservation, given the difficult economy it was not the top priority for expenditure of taxpayer funds at this time. He noted that a majority of the commissioners have recently refused to spend money on much-needed road repairs, school improvements and, in particular, “passed on the opportunity” to pursue a proposed purchase of the Basell property for a long-delayed new vo-tech school.
Hodge said there was “a big but here” and while farmland preservation is a laudable goal, this was not the time to spend county funds to do so for the McCoy property.
Members of the Cecil County Patriots, the local ‘tea party’ group, showed up in force to testify against the expenditure, with many taking a philosophical position that the government had no business interfering in the free market and claiming that the entire farmland preservation program was part of a broader, United Nations-endorsed “Agenda 21” to convert private property to government ownership and control.
But Ron Lobos, a member of the Patriots, took a more practical approach, saying that the real issue was giving taxpayer money to a “millionaire” private landowner, who would “take the money and run.” Lobos said it was “sheer lunacy” to give public funds to a private landowner when the public would have no rights of access to the preserved land.
Lobos held up a plastic pail, labeled “Lowell McCoy Fund,” and he asked people in the room to donate voluntarily if they wished to help preserve the McCoy farm. Late in the afternoon, he had collected less than a dollar from voluntary donations.
[CECIL TIMES will be publishing a detailed report on the McCoy farm issue soon. Commissioners debated the issue at a lengthy worksession Tuesday morning, and then held a long meeting in the afternoon on this and many other issues.]