Commissioners have agreed to move PDR program forward

February 2, 2011
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Kent County commissioners agreed last week to buy the development rights from three farms in a deal that totals 363 acres. The purchase price for all three is $560,000 or $1,543 per acre.

The next step is for the Kent County Agricultural Preservation Board to give each landowner a purchase option.

When the documents are signed, Kent/Michigan State University Extension Land Use Educator Kendra Wills will begin the closing process on the board’s behalf. Wills, who serves as a consultant to the county’s Purchase of Development Rights program, hopes to close all three transactions this year.

But first Wills has to file an application with the USDA Farmland Protection Program by Feb. 16 for a grant worth $218,400. Those funds will go toward the purchase price.

In addition, the county preservation board will contribute $281,600, money that comes from the county’s general operating budget and the Frey and Grand Rapids Community foundations. The landowners are expected to donate a total of $60,000 toward the purchase price.

The crop farms are located in Tyrone, Sparta, and Nelson townships.

Commissioners also took care of two other PDR-related matters last week.

In the first, they agreed to an amended grant agreement with Grand Rapids Community Foundation. The foundation awarded the PDR program a $300,000 grant last year with the payout set at $100,000 a year for three years. That money is stipulated to be used as matching funds for federal grants.

The foundation’s award for last year was the full $100,000. But the county had to fund the program at $350,000 this year to collect the full amount. However, it allocated $275,000 to the PDR effort from its general operating budget for this year, or 78 percent of the necessary amount to collect the full foundation grant. So GR Community Foundation pro-rated its 2011 award at $77,000 to match the county’s allocation and commissioners accepted the smaller grant.

“It’s a unique public-private partnership,” said Commissioner Stan Ponstein of the relationship the county has with the foundations.

In the second PDR-related matter, commissioners accepted a contribution of $89,816 from the five landowners who agreed to sell their development rights to the county last year.

“I’d like the board to realize how significant this is. Giving up a portion of your farm is like giving up a portion of your home,” said Commissioner Bill Hirsch, also a dairy farmer.

The five farms total 616.5 acres and the county is buying the commercial development rights to those acres for $1.08 million or $1,756 an acre.

Commissioners also agreed last week to dig into the aeronautics reserve fund and transfer $3.8 million from the account to the airport’s 2010 operating budget.

Airport Finance and Administration Director Brian Picardet said the facility had two unexpected expenses last year, with the largest being a $3.1 million depreciation charge for the new parking structure.

Board members also transferred $148,845 from the general operating reserve to the 2010 Treasurer’s office budget.

Kent County Treasurer Kenneth Parrish said the shift was necessary because the county’s checking accounts at Chase Bank didn’t return earnings large enough to cover the fees the bank charged the county over a 15-month period that began in 2009 and ran through 2010.

Parrish said he moved the county’s checking business to Huntington Bank.

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