Franklin Co. to get extra $1.4 million to save farms

October 28, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County will receive an extra $1.4 million for farmland preservation because of a special allocation in the 1999-2000 Pennsylvania state budget, enough to preserve an additional 1,800 acres over the next 18 months, according to county officials.

The money is in addition to the $720,000 in state and county funds budgeted in 1999 to preserve the county's best farmland, County Senior Planner Sherri Clayton said. The county also had $300,000 left over from its 1998 preservation budget, bringing the total to $2.4 million.

The $1,436,101 is the seventh highest amount given to any county out of $42 million set aside for 46 counties with preservation programs, according to County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott, who serves on the state's Farmland Preservation Board.

"There was a desire by the Legislature to accelerate the entire farmland preservation program," said Ray Pickering, the director of the Bureau of Farmland Preservation in Harrisburg, Pa. One reason is a backlog of more than 1,500 farms whose owners have applied to the program.


Farmers are paid the difference between what the land is worth for farming and what it would bring if sold for development. Clayton said that has been about $1,300 an acre here, a figure that has increased in recent years.

The county and state hold title to the easements, meaning the land cannot be sold for residential, commercial or industrial development.

This year the county purchased easements on two farms, with settlement pending on three more. Clayton said another farm near Mercersburg, Pa., is expected to be approved by the Farmland Preservation Board at its December meeting. The cost to purchase the easements of the 783 acres on the six farms is $923,000, she said.

"They want to plow that money back into their operations and keep the farms in their families," Clayton said about the farmers who have applied. Each year the county ranks the farms based on soil quality, productivity and development pressures.

There are 73 farms on the waiting list in Franklin County, according to Clayton. In the last decade, 21 county farms with 3,019 acres have been accepted into the program.

There are about 45,000 farms in Pennsylvania, 1,400 of them in Franklin County. The acreage preserved so far is about 1.5 percent of the 240,000 acres of farmland in the county.

Cash receipts for county farmers in 1998 were $210 million, according to the Pennsylvania Agricultural Statistics Service. Clayton said agriculture remains the county's biggest industry, and the county ranks second in the state in dairy, cattle and apple production.

Since the program was created, 1,160 farms with 144,000 acres have been taken into the program statewide, which is normally funded by a cigarette tax of 2 cents per pack, Pickering said.

Pickering said the formula for allocating the money is based on the agricultural productivity of each county, development pressures as measured by realty transfer taxes and the level of county matching funds.

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