|John and Barbara Stoffa. Stoffa proposed 1/2 mill|
for open space. "They elected me anyway," he says.
In 2002, Northampton County voters approved a non-binding referendum that authorized the County to borrow up to $37 million for open space projects. Council never borrowed the money. That changed in 2006, when Council approved a John Stoffa-proposed 1/2 mill tax hike (around $3.7 million) for farmland preservation, environmentally sensitive land and municipal parks.
Don Moore, a member of Plainfield township's Environmental Advisory Council, was highly critical of the Brown cuts. He pointed out there is money for 17 of 19 farmland preservation applications, but that's only because that money was approved in last year's budget. The remaining two farms are large ones located in Lehigh Tp, and Moore argued money should be placed in the budget for them. "What are you going to tell these Lehigh Township people?" he asked.
How Farmland Preservation Works
Here's how farmland preservation works. Farmers send in applications for preservation, under which they agree to sell their development rights to the County, in perpetuity, in exchange for a cash payment. An agricultural conservation easement is then placed in record, which limits nearly all but agricultural uses.
The program is seeded with money collected from that half mill tax, usually at about $1 million. But that's only the start.
In addition to that pot, the Farmland Preservation Administrator can use another source of money - taxes imposed on larger landowners who break a promise not to develop land in exchange for a preferential assessment. That can come in at another $30,000.
She can also mix in the EIT taxes collected by a local municipality that has approved a tax for that purpose.
She then notifies the state of the local monies being contributed and asks for a state match, which is paid from both the Environmental Stewardship Fund ans well as cigarette taxes. There's a pot of about $23 million.
The larger the county contribution, the larger the state match.
In 2012, Northampton County was able to get $6.6 million from the state for farmland preservation, which enabled it to preserve 30 farms. It beat Lancaster County in funds received from the state.
Director of Administration Luis Campos disingenuously told Council yesterday that the County has already met its commitment to farmland preservation. There was no value fixed in either the 2002 referendum or the 2006 half mill tax hike. Thus, his statement is necessarily false.
Northampton County has about 900 farms, and Bentzoni would like to preserve 25% of them. Though times are tough, now is the time to buy because property values are low. Incidentally, one of every seven jobs in Northampton County is either in agriculture or agricultural-related.
Lamont McClure, Bob Werner and Scott Parsons all criticized these cuts. Werner stated he'd move some money from the near $3 million table games slush fund to support farmland preservation. McClure, referring to the PennEast Pipeline projected to come through Northampton County, had the mist caustic remark.
"With a pipeline about to put a big scar through Northampton county, I'm not sure this is a good time to be abandoning open space."