PDR Program Closer To Being Funded

February 6, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County could take a big step toward finding funding for its Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) farmland preservation program this week.

County commissioners will be asked Thursday to accept $1.5 million in grants from three area foundations and to allow the Kent County Agricultural Preservation Board to make an application for matching funds from the Federal Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program.

The preservation board has submitted proposals to the Frey Foundation, the Lowell Area Community Foundation and the Steelcase Foundation for PDR matching money. Grants from the three would give the county the required local match the federal program calls for and would also cover associated program costs such as appraisals and closing charges.

“The county is not laying out any dollars,” said Daryl Delabbio, county administrator and controller, of Kent’s general fund.

Assistant County Administrator Mary Swanson said commission approval is necessary so the PDR funds can be entered into the county budget, an administrative move that is consistent with what Kent has done in the past.

“It is contingent upon getting an award,” she said, as the Finance and Physical Resources Committee recommended last week that members approve the request.

The Lowell Area Community Foundation has been asked to contribute $50,000 to the program, while the Frey and Steelcase foundations each have been asked for $300,000. The county should know any day whether two of the foundations will donate and should learn of the third’s intention within a month.

The preservation board plans to apply for the federal dollars this spring. Kendra Wills, of the MSU Extension Service, is handling the grant requests for the board.

Despite opposition from residential Realtors and builders, along with some state lawmakers, commissioners agreed to create the PDR program in November 2002.

The program is voluntary and a landowner has to get approval from a township board before applying. If a farmer accepts a PDR payment from the county, the land can’t be developed commercially.

When commissioners established the ordinance, they vowed to use available outside dollars to fund it. The PDR ordinance, however, does allow for county funds to be used in the program, but so far, none have.

Also on Thursday, commissioners could waive the annual lease payment for space the Legal Assistance Center has in the county courthouse at 180 Ottawa Ave. NW. The Grand Rapids Bar Association, which created and supports the center, has asked the county to do that and to allocate $100,000 each year for the center’s operations.

Last week, the Finance and Physical Resources Committee recommended that board members waive the lease, but not allocate the money because of state funding cuts to the county. Agreeing to waive the lease payment would cost the county $14,500 annually.

The assistance center has roughly 1,500 square feet in the courthouse and has served over 10,000 residents since it opened two years ago. The center needs about $200,000 annually to provide basic services.           

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