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editorial - daily mail _ 12/27/00

December 26, 2000

Rural Legacy grant welcome, but other fund sources needed



The Washington County Commissioners last week approved a list of 22 properties totaling 1,739 acres that they'd like to make eligible for the state's Rural Legacy program. The state-funded grant of $1.4 million would certainly be welcome, but it doesn't relieve the county of finding a funding source of its own for farmland preservation.

Earlier this month, the county commissioners brought the county's General Assembly delegation a proposal for a 1 percent transfer tax that would be levied whenever a home or business was sold.

The plan was to use the estimated $1.2 million cash the tax would raise each year for school renovations and farmland preservation, but real estate groups and some members of the delegation have opposed it, saying it would raise closing costs on home and business sales at a time when the state is working to trim them.

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The other side of that argument is that a home isn't something purchased every day, and the proceeds of the tax would add directly to the local quality of life by protecting the county's rural character and ensuring that schools are well maintained. And without incentives to do otherwise, more farms will be developed and more state money will stay on the table for lack of a local match.

So if there's no local resolve to do the transfer tax, what then? We suggest that the commissioners give serious consideration to reviving Commissioner Paul Swartz's 1999 proposal to raise the state sales tax by one cent.

Under Swartz's plan, the tax would be rebated to the counties in the proportions collected there, so that all the out-of-towners who shop at Prime Outlets, for example, would be helping the local economy.

Yes, we've heard the argument that this goes against General Assembly tradition, but House Speaker Cas Taylor has previously suggested raising the sales tax by half-a-cent to jump-start some transportation projects. Traditions seem flexible, depending on who wants to bend them. And as Swartz said in 1999, if you want something, you have to ask for it. It's time to explore this option again.

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