Harford County voters will be asked to decide on two charter amendments on the Nov. 3 ballot. We urge support for both.
Question A would authorize unequal installment payments to purchase farm land preservation easements, primarily financed by a transfer tax on real estate sales. By voting for the amendment, voters will approve the irregular payments, which are now prohibited by the county's charter.
A vote for Question A, it should be noted, does not automatically put in place a new farm land preservation program, nor set the level of the proposed transfer tax to pay for it. It will be for the County Council to decide on an easement purchase program as it continues to form a Rural Plan.
Having lost 50,000 acres of farm land to development over the past 25 years, Harford needs to provide farmers with an option to selling their irreplaceable land for development. An easement program has been successfully used in Howard County and, until its funds were recently diverted by the governor for other uses, by the state of Maryland.
The transfer tax will add to the cost of buying a home in Harford. But it is the demand for housing that creates the pressure to develop more open land, primarily farm land because it is cheap and available. It is not unreasonable that new home buyers help to pay for preserving the rural lands that are an enjoyable amenity of living in Harford County.
Proceeds from the transfer tax would also go toward school construction and renovation under the state law that enabled Harford to enact the tax. At 1 percent, the maximum allowable rate that the county can ultimately approve, the tax would generate about $5 million a year.
Funds from other sources will also pay for these programs that benefit the public, so homebuyers alone won't shoulder the entire tab for new schools and farm preservation. The new tax itself also wouldn't likely prevent people from buying a home in Harford.
Question B would allow the County Council to set the dollar level above which county purchases and contracts would have to go to competitive bid, eliminating the current $3,000 ceiling. The change would save tens of thousands of dollars in administrative costs. The council is likely to set a modestly higher limit, maintaining a proper control over non-bid items while recognizing the costs of both inflation and micro-management. That's a change that makes sense.