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Farmer says tax relief might be better option

April 05, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Franklin County, Pa., has $6.2 million allocated for farmland preservation this year, but farmers on Tuesday told three county officials that tax relief might be a better long-term option.

Tom Shook, who has a 100-acre farm on Grant Shook Road, said the taxes in 1950 were $185. Now, they are $8,000 a year.

He said he appreciates the county initiatives to prevent development on farms, but the continual increase in taxes worries him as he looks to the future.

"Right now, it would look good to me if you'd say I wouldn't have to pay taxes," Shook said.

Franklin County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott described it as an "interesting proposition" that would have to be developed by the state legislature.

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Elliott and two representatives of the county planning department met with the Antrim Township (Pa.) Supervisors to discuss the township's contributions and experiences with the farmland preservation program.

Last year, Antrim Township contributed $300,000 to the county's initiatives and helped preserve the first orchard through the program.

The county preserved the first of 57 farms in 1991. The program has spent $10.9 million to place perpetual easements over 7,968 acres.

The goal is to reach the 10,000-acre mark this year, according to Elliott.

Fifty-two farms have been submitted to the county for its spring approval period.

"The preservation of farmland in the townships reduces the acres available for sprawl development and typically spurs redevelopment in the boroughs and older communities," Planning Director Phil Tarquino said during his presentation.

The perpetual easement is partially designed to ward off developers if the property becomes available for sale in the future.

Farmers are then "competing against another farmer to buy that land," Supervisor Bob Whitmore said.

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