Nine properties totaling 1,200 acres, including the prominent Grimmell Farm in Jarrettsville, officially entered Harford County's agricultural preservation program.
The nine farms represent about $3 million of cash up front at settlement and about $7 million in the long run, Bill Amoss, chief of the agricultural preservation program, said during Tuesday's Harford County Council meeting.
The new easements represent a bright light in the ag preservation program, which has struggled to stay afloat during a recession and compete with the pace of development in the county.
Amoss said 115 development rights will be erased as part of the county's purchase of the properties, which are scattered throughout the area.
"I believe it has been over three years that we have been in front of you for the county easement program," he told the council, explaining the program has managed to get money from the state Department of Natural Resources, if not the county.
"We really look forward to this," he said. "As you know, with the economy, it really slowed down the transfer tax coming in."
Amoss said there has nevertheless been considerable interest among landowners.
"Over 50-some landowners showed interest in our program," he said.
The county would purchase 270 acres of Grimmell Farm in Jarrettsville for $1.5 million; 285 acres of the Vaughan property in White Hall for $2 million; 140 acres of Norfolk Farm in White Hall for $790,727; 30 acres of the Ludwig property in Churchville for $70,000; 65 acres of the Onufrak property in Darlington for $286,014; 115 acres of the Troyer property in White Hall for $574,149; 170 acres of the Rickey property in Whiteford for $1.2 million; 100 acres of the Wiley property in Pylesville for $535,372; and 150 acres of the Gambill property in Bel Air for $867,493.
Councilman Chad Shrodes said the new easements have been a long time coming.
"It's nice that we are picking up now in our county really the best and the most viable farms that we have," Shrodes said. "Some of those we've kind of always wished would come in the program and it looks like the day came…That's exciting to me representing the northern part of Harford County and a rural area."
Also at the meeting, the council approved a fee waiver for residents who apply for a permit to make major home repairs in the wake of an emergency, as recognized by a county state of emergency.
The fee waive would only be effective within 30 days of the emergency.
Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti voted against the measure.
"In my view, it is too far-reaching," she said. "Anytime you apply [for a permit], there is a reason there is a cost involved… and I'm not so sure what the public good is of this."
"I think in fiscal matters like that, I'm not very comfortable giving that authority to waive fees and impact our revenue," she said.
She said if such a case were to come up, the administration should present a package to the council and discuss it in a public forum.
Councilman Jim McMahan, however, came out strongly in support of the bill.
"There are very few times we county council members can help citizens in distress," McMahan said. "In my opinion, this is such a time."
The county passed changes clarifying positions on the youth commission and establishing a maximum and minimum number of members.
Lisanti said she was concerned about the legislation's failure to require each district to be represented on the youth commission. It is only a recommendation, not a requirement.
"I think that really shortchanges the diversity of students who would be on the youth commission," she said.
The council appointed Thomas Fidler Jr., a former school board member, to the liquor control board.