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New county position will oversee land preservation

January 11, 2006|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday stepped up efforts to permanently protect agricultural land from development, by joining forces with a nonprofit preservation group and also agreeing to hire a full-time land preservation planner.

The County Commissioners voted unanimously to work with the Mid-Maryland Land Trust Association, which serves Washington and Frederick counties.

The association, which began operating in February 2005, will work with landowners willing to donate easements to the county and also apply for grants to help pay for land preservation.

In return, the county will pay the association a 3 percent administrative fee and legal costs, including the cost of searching for a title, appraisals and settlement costs. The legal costs will range from 1.5 percent to 2 percent of the cost of the easement, according to the county's agreement with the association.

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The Mid-Maryland Land Trust Association already has submitted a 2005 Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program grant for the county, which netted a $329,500 grant.

Peter J. Vorac, executive director of the association, told the commissioners that encouraging landowners to donate easements will save the county the costs of having to purchase them.

It also will "increase the number of acres of protected agricultural land, forest land, and open space in Washington County," according to the agreement.

Later in the meeting, the commissioners voted 4-1 to hire a land preservation planner.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell was the only commissioner to vote against the position.

The base salary for the land preservation planner, who will work in the county's Administrative Annex on West Baltimore Street, is $32,391. Planning Director Michael Thompson asked for the position.

Wivell said he didn't think a land preservation planner was necessary at this time because the Planning Department soon will hire two new planners that were approved previously.

He also said the county will receive help with preservation matters from the Mid-Maryland Land Trust Association.

"I'm not ready at this point to approve another position for this when you are getting two additional planners," he told Thompson.

Thompson said the two planners would have other duties. He said the land preservation planner is needed to relieve the workload of Eric Seifarth, who is the county's land preservation administrator.

Thompson and County Administrator Rodney Shoop said Seifarth has been working extra hours and on weekends to keep up with land preservation paperwork and other preservation responsibilities.

"I don't see and Mike doesn't see any light at the end of the tunnel where Eric can get back to a normal work week," Shoop said.

Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said she supported the position because some of the extra work is the result of requests made by commissioners.

"If we're going to really be serious about land preservation, and some of the other projects we talked about ... I just think they need some additional staff down there for the workload that we've asked them to do," Nipps said.

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