Frederick County’s continuing efforts to preserve its agricultural heritage will take another giant step forward next month, with a significant infusion of cash.
Anne Bradley, the county’s land preservation administrator, told News-Post reporter Jillian Atelsek, that the county is on track to meet its goal of preserving 100,000 acres of farmland over the next 20 years, by 2040.
That is an ambitious but practical goal for our fast-urbanizing county. It is also a necessary goal if we are to preserve our agricultural heritage, which contributes greatly to the quality of life here. Many Frederick residents have been drawn to live here because it has a mix of city and rural life.
The Gardner administration has emphasized the need to support the agricultural community with several projects announced in recent weeks. County Executive Jan Gardner has shown how much she appreciates the role of the agricultural community in the quality of life for our county.
Just last month, Gardner asked the County Council to approve a feasibility study for a large, shared kitchen where small farms could rent out processing equipment and industrial storage space. The project has been a dream of the farming community for a long time. It would let farmers create products for direct sale to consumers.
In addition, the administration awarded $306,000 to 14 agricultural concerns in the county’s first-ever round of agriculture innovation grants to fund projects that boost economic viability on local farms.
The new money for the land preservation program will be generated by an increase in the tax the county charges to record a real estate transfer. It was first proposed in January 2020, and then approved by the County Council.
But implementation was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was first collected last October and with the 2022 fiscal year budget now approved, the county’s land preservation efforts will be fully funded.
The recordation tax has been $6 per every $500 of the property’s mortgaged value, Bradley told our reporter. Now, it’s $7 — and each extra dollar will go toward agricultural preservation. The share of recordation tax revenues dedicated to preserving 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 to the News-Post reporter. “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 primarily guarantees preservation of the agricultural land by purchasing easements. The easement ensures the property cannot be rezoned for anything other than agriculture use.
In addition to acquiring easements on existing farms, the county also helps individuals purchase agricultural land. Our reporter told the story of Sandra Storm and her husband, who last year bought the farm in Linganore on which they had been working since the 1980s, with help from the preservation program.
We should note that Frederick County’s recordation tax rate is among the highest in the state, but it does not collect an additional transfer tax on real estate transactions. Thus, the county’s revenue on real estate transactions is in line with similar Maryland counties.
The county ordinance increasing the fee proclaims: “It is important to seize the opportunity to acquire agricultural easements now before this land is lost to development. Securing preservation easements for agriculture will ensure a bright future for Frederick County and will protect our treasured agricultural heritage.”
That is a worthy goal, for current and future generations of leaders in Frederick County.