The Frederick County Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to reinstate past funding for farmland preservation and park development, but rejected an amendment to increase agricultural land funding further.
Council President Bud Otis introduced a bill on Feb. 7, on behalf of County Executive Jan Gardner, to restore a funding level for parks and one of the county’s farmland preservation programs.
Previously, farmland preservation and parks each received 12.5 percent of the revenue from a recordation tax, based on real estate sales.
In 2012, in the the aftermath of the Great Recession from four years earlier, the county cut the levels to 10 percent for farmland preservation and 5 percent for parks.
On Tuesday, the council unanimously agreed to return the levels to 12.5 percent for both.
Before the measure passed, Otis tried to amend it to shift money from parks to farmland preservation. That would have put the levels at 15 percent for farmland preservation and 10 percent for parks.
The measure failed 5-2, with only Councilman Tony Chmelik joining Otis in the minority.
“When you go to the Farm Bureau meetings and you hear what they’re saying — there’s not enough money being set aside for agricultural preservation,” Otis said in an interview after the meeting.
Forty-one farms in Frederick County applied for agricultural easements in the last two-year cycle. The council approved a slate of applicants Tuesday evening, allowing the county to move ahead on them.
Otis grew up on a dairy farm in Indiana. He introduced the amendment to support Frederick County farms, an area that the county differs from neighboring Montgomery County.
Councilman Jerry Donald said during discussion of the bill and the proposed amendment that the council had to consider where Frederick County has grown. He estimated $9.3 million of park funding was lost between 2012 and 2017.
“I think it would be in our best interest to get these parks up and running,” Donald said.
The bill and amendment dictate the percentage of recordation-tax revenue that goes to different county funds. One fund is the county’s Installment Purchase Program, which places farmland in permanent easements and pays yearly tax-free interest payments and a lump sum at the end of a long-term loan.
The county has preserved 18,000 acres through the Installment Purchase Program and placed 56,000 acres overall into permanent agricultural easements through various programs, county Land Preservationist Anne Bradley said.
Frederick County’s goal is to place 100,000 acres in agriculture easements.
Otis said after the vote that Gardner did not support his attempted amendment.
However, Gardner said during a phone interview after the vote that Otis did not share his plan with her in advance.
“I did not know he was going to introduce this amendment this evening,” she said.
She said equal percentages for parks and farms strikes a good balance.
Gardner said she is open to increasing funding for farmland preservation, which has a demand the county cannot currently meet, but that conversation has not happened.
The bill calls for more money to go to parks and farmland preservation by reducing the percentage of recordation-tax revenue going to the county’s general fund from 68.3 percent to 58.3 percent. The remaining 41.7 percent will be divided up as 12.5 for farmland preservation, 12.5 for parks and 16.7 to support school construction.
For fiscal year 2017, the Installment Purchase Program was anticipated to increase $351,000, according to calculations by Lori Depies, director of the county Division of Finance, submitted as a fiscal note on Nov. 28, 2016.
Park acquisition funding would increase by approximately $1.1 million, and unrestricted general funds would decrease by $1.4 million, Depies wrote.