Land Preservation

Update: There were no changes made to the Calvert County BOCC FY2016 Budget. There will be no new county funds for the purchase and retirement of TDRs. The Calvert County Farm Bureau will continue to lobby the BOCC for funding in future years.

Calvert Sustainable Network Writes Letter to the Editor Urging Funding for Land Preservation

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Calvert County Recorder on June 3, 2015

Calvert commissioners should keep funding land preservation
Karen H. Edgecombe, Prince Frederick: The writer is executive director of the American Chestnut Land Trust, writing on behalf of the Sustainable Calvert Network, which includes the ACLT, Calvert County Farm Bureau, Calvert County Historical Society, Calvert Farmland Trust, Calvert Nature Society, Cove Point Natural Heritage Trust and the League of Women Voters.

The groups listed at the end of this letter are members of the Sustainable Calvert Network that have individually submitted written or oral testimony to the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners requesting that the county continue to fund land preservation in its fiscal 2016 budget. The network’s goal is to achieve a future for Calvert County that fully integrates farming, fishing and natural and cultural resources, along with economic and societal needs.

Calvert County’s agricultural preservation program is nationally recognized, and we are proud of the support the county government has provided to develop this program. We are, however, concerned the program has been jeopardized by the loss of what many in the agricultural and land trust communities believed was a dedicated funding source.

Ever since the first Calvert County Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 1966, one of the primary goals of the residents of Calvert County has been to preserve the rural character of our county. In order to promote Calvert County as a desirable location for high-technology industries, a vacation destination, a farming region, a resource protection area and a retirement community, the current comprehensive plan provides that Calvert County must continue to “preserve the rural character of the County, its prime farmland, contiguous forests, historic resources, and environmentally sensitive areas.” It commits $2 million per year to land preservation.

In 1979, Calvert County established the county’s award-winning agricultural preservation program and made a commitment to its residents to preserve farmland. Farmers who enrolled in the program and subsequently sold even one transferable development right (TDR), agreed to place a perpetual easement on their entire farm. The county agreed to maintain a market for TDRs and to provide funds for complementary state land preservation programs.

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Calvert County Farm Bureau Responds to Lack of Funding for Land Preservation in Calvert County BOCC FY2016 Budget

On Tuesday, May 19, 2015, the Calvert County Farm Bureau gave testimony at the public budget hearing before the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners urging them to restore full support to the land preservation programs. Below is the testimony which was read by Jamie Tiralla on behalf of Susie Hance Wells.

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Good evening and thank you for the opportunity to comment on the 2016 Calvert County Proposed Draft Budget. My name is Jamie Tiralla, I am here in place of Susie Hance Wells, the President of the Calvert County Farm Bureau. Susie is attending a Southern Maryland Farm Bureau meeting and she asked me to give this testimony in her place, on behalf of the Calvert County Farm Bureau.

Our comments are specific to the money set aside for the Land Preservation Programs. In fiscal year 2015, the County allocated $1.25 million to the PAR Fund; however the proposed FY2016 budget allocates no new County funds for the Purchase and Retirement of TDRs.

No one can sympathize more with the County’s financial situation than a farmer. There are many years when a farm’s operating budget is tight. We routinely need to find places to cutback and be frugal with our spending. However, we all must prioritize our needs and honor our commitments.

In 1979, Calvert County made a commitment to its citizens to preserve farmland. In exchange for farmers placing perpetual easements on their property, the County agreed to maintain a market for TDRs and provide funds for state land preservation programs.

In 1999, the County increased the recordation tax specifically to support farmland preservation. The Calvert County Farm Bureau is requesting that the BOCC use this money for the purpose it was intended and financially back the PAR Fund, Leveraging and State matching funds for FY2016.

It is noteworthy that of the $1.25 million allocated for land preservation in the 2015 budget, $530,000 in PAR Fund expenditures, was received from the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC). This money from SMADC is considered matching funds – intended to help the county leverage its purchasing potential. Without funding allocated in the 2016 budget for land preservation, we will be ineligible to receive a matching funds grant from SMADC in FY2017. Consequently, we will miss an opportunity to double our land preservation dollars. These leveraging dollars may not be available in the future. It is important we try and maximize every opportunity available to us.

Calvert County’s land preservation program has been a model for other land preservation programs across the country. To maintain that reputation, we need the financial backing and support of the board of county commissioners.

There are currently 12,000 unsold, certified TDRs. Farmers who have unsold TDRs are feeling unsupported and vulnerable for the loss of value in their land, which is the major asset used to finance farming operations.

The County has a great purchasing opportunity to reduce the number of TDRs at an exceptional value – about 1/3 of price they were several years ago.

We urge the board of county commissioners to use the source of funding from the recordation fee to financially support the PAR fund so that we don’t miss the opportunity to retire TDRs at a good value and leverage matching funds that are available from other sources.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Susie Hance Wells, President, Calvert County Farm Bureau