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Farmland protection bill OK'd Council sets maximum price of $6,660 per acre


The County Council unanimously approved last night a bill to revise the criteria for admission to the county's farmland preservation program and set a maximum price of $6,600 an acre for the best properties.

Until now, only rural properties outside the county water and sewer district have been eligible. Now, properties within the district may be accepted as well, under an amendment sponsored by Councilman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th.

Mr. Farragut said he doubted whether many urban landowners would take advantage of the program but that the addition of urban properties "offers the county another option, another opportunity we can take advantage of."

Whether properties are urban or rural, they still must contain 100 or more acres to be considered for the program unless adjacent to parcels already in the program.

Properties coming into the program will be subject to a new pricing formula aimed at assuring the county gets the best land for its money. The county has about $15 million to acquire easements.

Under the new pricing formula, the county could pay no more than $6,600 an acre for the best properties.

Once a property has been accepted into the program, the county will buy the easement on an installment plan, paying the owner tax-free interest on the principal for 30 years. The capital would be paid in a so-called balloon payment at the end of the financing period.

Councilmen Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, and C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, voted for the Farragut amendment after criticizing it.

Mr. Gray said he hoped the amendment was not a substitute for acquiring property in the county's urbanized eastern area under the state open-space law. Mr. Feaga said the need to preserve farmland is greater in the rural areas than in urban areas.

In other action, the council approved a bill to lease a building at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital in Jessup for $1 a year for 40 years and use it as a drug and alcohol halfway house.

Council members were scheduled to vote on the project last month but reconsidered after Rebecca Horvath, director of general services, told them the county should be prepared to underwrite the halfway house at a cost of up to $50,000 a year for the first two years.

Those costs are on top of $250,000 in county money the council previously authorized to renovate the building, with the help of a $250,000 grant from the state.

The council tabled six other pieces of legislation last night, including two that need General Assembly approval if they are to be enacted.

One of the tabled bills requiring General Assembly approval would have replaced the county Economic Development Department with a privately run Economic Development Authority. The other would have substituted one fire district and one fire tax rate for the six fire districts and six fire tax rates the county has now.

The council adopted a resolution stating that all legislation it approves is law, regardless of whether the legislation conforms to the council's rules of procedure or Jefferson's Manual.

The council also confirmed eight nominees of County Executive Charles I. Ecker for various boards and commissions. Five were new appointments and three were reappointments.

Debbie Derwart, David Ennis, Mark Jason McNeill, and Margaret M. Mohler were confirmed as members of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Advisory Board.

Also confirmed were Bruce Kennedy for the Animal Matters Board; John H. Seyle, the Commission on Disability Issues; Daniel W. Wyczalek, the Public Works Board; and Edward W. Zepp III, the Fire and Rescue Services Board.

Mr. Ennis, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Seyle had served previously.

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