Come July, Frederick County’s budget will reflect a substantial increase in funding for the preservation of agricultural land.
The change will aid in the county’s efforts to preserve 100,000 acres of farmland by the year 2040, said Anne Bradley, the county’s land preservation administrator.
When certain types of real estate transfers occur in the county, the government collects a one-time recordation tax. Before, the tax was set at $6 per every $500 of the property’s mortgaged value, Bradley said. Now, it’s $7 — and each extra dollar collected will go toward agricultural preservation.
Though it may seem small, the dollar increase means the share of recordation tax revenues dedicated to preserving the county’s farmland will double — jumping from 12.5 percent to 25 percent.
“I’m extremely excited about the boost in agricultural preservation funding,” Bradley wrote in an email. “Every year we have more applicants than funding available. The increase in funding means we will be able to make more landowners offers every year, which is amazing.”
Bradley’s office operates a wide range of programs aimed at making sure agricultural land in the county is conserved. A big part of her work involves acquiring preservation easements on farmland, which ensures the property can’t ever be rezoned for anything other than agriculture use and thus heavily developed.
The change from $6 to $7 is the result of a bill introduced in January 2020. But because of the pandemic, the boost didn’t go into effect until October rather than July, when new fiscal years typically begin.
“Fiscal year 21’s budget only reflects a partial year of that increased revenue,” Bradley said. “Fiscal year 22 is going to be the first budget we adopt, which shows all of the increase in revenue we expect.”
In the bill proposing the increase, County Council members acknowledged that Frederick County’s recordation tax rate is among the highest in the state. But unlike most counties — like Harford, Howard and Charles — Frederick doesn’t collect an additional transfer tax on similar real estate transactions.
The one-dollar hike in the recordation tax rate here “brings Frederick’s total revenue in line” with similar counties across the state, the bill said.
“It is important to seize the opportunity to acquire agricultural easements now before this land is lost to development,” the county document states. “Securing preservation easements for agriculture will ensure a bright future for Frederick County and will protect our treasured agricultural heritage.”
Sam Roop, president of the county’s Farm Bureau, said he’d been following the proposed tax increase and was happy to see it passed when the County Council officially approved the budget for next fiscal year.
“It’s very important,” Roop said. “That means we're going to have agricultural land to produce food, whether it's for human or animal consumption.”
In addition to acquiring easements on existing farms, Frederick County’s preservation efforts include programs aimed at helping individuals purchase agricultural land. That’s what happened for Sandra Storm and her husband, who last year bought the farm in Linganore they’d been laboring on for decades.
Since the 1980s, the Storms had lived and worked on a cattle farm on Old Annapolis Road, but it belonged to someone else. It had long been the goal of Sandra and her husband — who lived on the same farm growing up, when his parents rented the land — to eventually own the property, she said.
Without the county’s assistance, the farm would have been sold to “whoever had the money to purchase it” when the owner died, Storm said.
Being able to keep the land "means a lot," she said. Developers who buy up farmland “don’t have the drive to do the farming themselves,” she added.
“They just have the money.”