Antrim Township officials talk police, farmland preservation

October 20, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Twenty-five residents of Antrim Township turned out for a special meeting of the Antrim Township Board of Supervisors Tuesday evening to give comment on two possible line items in the 2005 budget.

Up for discussion was the inclusion of $250,000 for agricultural land preservation and another $250,000 to provide police services in the township.

Phil Tarquino, planning director for Franklin County, explained how the county operates its Ag Preservation program, which began in December 1989.


Tarquino said farmers apply to have their acreage placed in agriculture preservation. A nine-member board rates the parcel of land on several factors such as soil type, zoning, sewer, water and adjacent land use, and gives the property a score, he said.

The farm is then appraised on pure market value and pure agriculture value, and the difference is the conservation easement, he said.

A new deed is then issued. The farmer retains ownership of the land, but the public owns the development rights in perpetuity, Tarquino said. The land may be sold, but only for agricultural purposes.

Sixteen applications for ag preservation are pending in Antrim Township, and about 100 countywide, Tarquino said. This year, the county has about $1 million for the program.

"Funding is limited at the state level," he said.

The Franklin County Commissioners have committed $5 million over the next three years to fund the program, he said, adding that the 2,100 acres pending in Antrim Township would cost $4 million to $4.5 million.

The goal of the program is not to stop development, Tarquino said, but to preserve prime farmland in large blocks.

On the police issue, Supervisor Robert Whitmore said that as the township grows in population, it increases the emphasis from the state that the municipality pick up some financial responsibility for police.

"It's just a proposal (in Harrisburg) at this point," Whitmore said, "but we want to begin to build it into the budget so it doesn't hit us all at one time."

The proposal states that municipalities with more than 6,000 people are required either to establish their own police force, create one in partnership with another municipality or make a contribution to the state for police coverage, Whitmore said. The population of Antrim Township was about 12,500 in 2000; the projection for 2005 is 14,200, he said.

He said that on most evenings, two state police officers are on patrol in the county. "People are saying that sometimes they wait an hour for police services here," he said.

An informal vote showed about 20 people favored putting $250,000 in the budget for ag preservation, and four favored the same amount for police.

Bonnie Shockey, a township resident, told the supervisors to "go for it" on both proposals.

Ralph Tracey of Greencastle said taxes are his major concern and said State Police are more professional than a smaller local police force would be.

Supervisor B.J. Roberts Jr. said the board wanted to give the public "a chance to speak out, to tell us if we're going in the right direction. We still want to balance the budget and not raise taxes."

The township's preliminary budget will be ready Nov. 9.

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