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Farmland preservation goes to panel


A much-altered version of Carroll Del. Joseph M. Getty's farmland preservation bill made its way to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Friday, leaving the freshman legislator with technical changes rather than the reform he sought earlier in the session.

Mr. Getty, a Manchester Republican, urged the committee to return the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation to annual application cycle, rather than taking applications twice a year.

However, the original bill, perceived by some farmers as solely benefiting Carroll County, also would have made farm appraisals good for two years and prohibited the foundation from limiting the number of applications counties submit.

Carroll County has the most farmland preserved in the state and often has the most applications to send to the foundation. In addition, county regulations state that all applications be sent to the foundation.

"These changes were made in anticipation of greater funding of the program," Mr. Getty said, noting that money for the program has decreased since the 1980s, when the new policies were adopted.

As a result, he said, farmers would be forced to reappraise their properties to apply for the second cycle before they had heard whether they were accepted in the first cycle.

The process normally takes 10 months from application to bidding.

In the farmland preservation program, properties are appraised to determine their agricultural value and what they would be worth if they were to be developed.

To preserve the properties, the state purchases an easement -- for the difference between those two values -- and the farmer agrees to keep the property as farmland forever.

In addition, the farmer often receives some tax benefits for selling an easement.

Mr. Getty's amended bill passed the House Monday by a 138-0 vote.

Senators also heard testimony Friday on a related House resolution that calls for a task force to study how changes in real estate transfer taxes would affect money for two state programs -- Program Open Space and the Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation.

Both programs receive portions of transfer taxes collected in Maryland. Program Open Space purchases recreational land.

The resolution passed the House March 17 by a 113-23 vote.

It would create a 21-member task force that includes two delegates, two senators, members of the farming community, environmental organizations, two citizens and representatives of the banking and building industries.

If the resolution passes the Senate, the task force will be directed to report its findings to the General Assembly by Nov. 1.

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