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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, July 08, 2016

Township Residents Challenge Brown on Farmland Preservation

John Stoffa proposed half mill open space tax
when he ran for office, "and they voted
for me anyway."
Residents from the Mount Bethels and Plainfield Township challenged Executive John Brown's commitment to farmland preservation at Northampton County Council's July 8 meeting, accusing him of "plundering" the half mill of real estate taxes set aside ten years ago for open space. But Brown retorted that he is the "misinformation out in the public sector" and that his resolve remains unchanged. .

Charles Cole who lives on a preserved farm in Upper Mount Bethel Township that has been in his family for 120 years, stated that if not for farmland preservation, his farm would be developed as residential housing, adding to traffic woes and burdening schools.

Glenn Borger, a Plainfield Tp. Supervisor, said he was "astounded" that no money was set aside for farmland preservation in this year's budget. "You really pulled a snow job, I'll tell you."

Council President John Cusick told speakers to come back in October, when the budget for next year is introduced. But Plainfield Township's Don Moore, who has appeared  for the past two years, said that "[t]his is the appropriate time. ... When you come in October, it's already too late."

According to Moore, the half mill tax for open space translates to $3.8 million that historically has been set aside for for farmland preservation ($1 million), municipal parks ($1 million), county parks ($900,000), and r environmentally sensitive lands ($900,000). But for the past two years, Brown has budgeted nothing for farmland preservation. Two years ago, Council set aside $750,000 in table games revenue for farmlands, but this year's budget set aside nothing.

Moore said that brown's refusal to set aside money means that townships with their own taxes for open space are unable to get matching funds. "He pillaged the entire fund and says, 'Look at how financially responsible I am." That's not financially responsible. The county puts in $1, that allows us to put in $1. In 2015, it was 89 cents on the dollar. You put in $1 each, and the state gives you $1.70, and you have $3.70. Turn $1 into $3.70 to preserve farms. It's a no-brainer. That's what's being responsible, maximizing our taxpayer dollars.

Moore claimed that townships felt they had a partner with the county "until Mr. Brown came along." He also noted that the farmland preservation office is undermanned. "He claims to be open space advocate, but yet he left [Farmland Manager] Maria Bentzoni's assistant position remain open from January 21, 2015, and didn't advertise it, until Thanksgiving."

Patrick McInerney, a Lower Mt Bethel. Planning Commissioner and member of its Environmental Advisory Board, said his township has both an open space income tax and the largest number of acres preserved in the county. "Without support from the county, our matching funds that we collect in our EIT don't end up multiplying in the state," he complained.

Brown, who left the room as he was being criticized, returned with a binder to support his defense.

He condemned the "misinformation" and said, "We are finding 100% of the farms that qualify for the program. End of story."

Brown explained that each year, about 20-30 farms, apply, and about half of those that end up qualifying are purchased over a two-year period. He said the funding required averages between $800,000 and $1.2 million per year. He said that the program peaked a few years ago, and has been in decline. He added that if the demand is there, he will find the money. But as of right now, the program is "overfunded." He added that once money is committed to farmland preservation, it is impossible to use it for anything else.

Over the past six years, Northampton County has spent $22 million for farmland preservation, including the matching money received from the state. That'dnearly three ties as much as the $8 million spent in Lehigh. He said Northampton is "wellon its way" to preserving 25% of its land for open space, as recommended by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.

Brown acknowledged that townships have set aside about $5 million for land preservation, and nothing prevents them from using their money to preserve open space.

"Show me the demand," he challenged his critics. "We're being financially prudent. We're funding to the level we need."

Moore stated that rumors abound that Brown intends to set aside no money for farmland preservation in next year's budget.


Anonymous said...

That old Stoffa line is getting old as him. He won because mainline Republican supporters were encouraged to support him by Peg Ferraro who hated Nyce for beating her in the primary. Had it been Stoffa v. Ferraro this stupid line would be irrelevant since he never would have been elected..

Truth matters!

Anonymous said...

Upon Browne's RE:entry of the room with folder in hand did he declair a palumpa PowerPoint explanation to repute and sway to sell the people on his poor excuses too?!($
Wishing your opinion's very well this week as the democratical disfunctional tools, as well as rasputant republican tools implemented are instigating to say the least because of actions and lack thereof?!($
Thax for all the hard work inspite of
RE:publican redd no party afilliation

Anonymous said...

Simply put Brown does not believe in open space preservation of any kind.

Kevin Bellew said...

The article is so full of double speak that I wonder how you waded through it, Bernie. Why be 'well on the way' to preserving our farm land? Why not just do it, since Brown says that the program is overfunded. And, horrors, having to spend the money on the program for which it was dedicated. What a novel idea. Why have 25% a sacred number? It sickens me to see McMansions built on land that once fed us. People want farmers' markets. Fine. Keep our farms so we can have them.

Bernie O'Hare said...

This article is not doublespeak, Kevin. I am reporting what both sides say. It is the LVPC that has recommended preserving 25% of land. It is not a sacred number, but that is the LVPC recommendation. What Brown is saying is that he will preserve any qualified farm. He claims the demand just is not there anymore, so why dedicate money that can never be diverted when there is no demand and there are numerous other needs. That is his point, and that has nothing to do with wanting farmer's markets or hating McMansions. I am one of Brown's biggest critics, and happen to really admire Don Moore, but have an obligation to present both sides of the story and be fair.

Is Brown accurate? Are there farms that won't be funded? I have no evidence either way.

Anonymous said...

There is no dedicated tax for open space. Real Estate tax cannot be dedicated, that would be against the law. It is a shame that so many people do not understand how county government works. A county executive can claim part of the tax is dedicated to space travel but that doesn't make it so.

Enough already, get with reality.

Anonymous said...

hate to agree with Brown on this one, but, sounds like a prudent procedure.

Anonymous said...

If no money for farmland preservation, then cut real estate tax or tell us the truth when you present budget

Anonymous said...

@6:43 If true cut the designated tax then right?

Anonymous said...

anon 10:39, these is no "designated tax".

Anonymous said...

@4:03 I get that. But the tax was instituted for a specific purpose. Correct it isn't legally bound to that purpose. But it was sold to the public for a specific function. If that function is no longer needed, or if that function is no longer being performed roll it back. The tax (which was a .5 increase) was instituted to generate "$80 million for open space over 20 years." If thats not longer needed based on demand or if it's not being used for that function than reduce the millage by .5

Anonymous said...

Open space preservation is a waste of taxpayer money except to maintain existing parks and public spaces. I don't need tax dollars going to a program so I can drive by fields. If I want to do that, I can just head west. The LV is a growing area and we need housing and we need commercial development.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I disagree completely with this short-sighted view. When done right, open space preservation actually leads to economic development. But it is often done wrong. There should be no more purchases of swamp land or cliffland that will never be developed anyway. Lands that should be purchased are those under immediate threat of development. The open space board sjould be reconstituted instead od packed with environmentalists.

Anonymous said...

I AM SICK AND TIRED OF THIS "FARMLAND PRESERVATION". Nothing more then a money grab for people who bought a farm and don't even farm but have more then 1o acres.

why should I as a taxpayer bail some asshole out of his land for him to make a fast buck and stay in the fuking place and give him a million for useless land?
Try and sell it. You wont even get those kind of dollar signs for useless land