Food Service & Agriculture, Government, and Real Estate

Farmland donation coming before the county board

Commission vote will mark only the second preservation action this year.

October 18, 2013
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farmland donation coming before the county board
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Kent County commissioners will decide this week whether to accept a donation to its farmland preservation program, a gift that wasn’t totally embraced last week by the county’s Finance Committee.

The trust of Denny Heffron, a local farmer and member of the county’s Agricultural Preservation Board, has offered to donate to the county the development rights of 83 farmland acres in Grattan Township.

A baseline environmental study, survey and title work must be completed before the county can officially accept the gift for its Purchase of Development Rights program. The property also has to be appraised before a dollar value can be attached to the donation.

The funding for the environmental study, title search and insurance, and closing and recording costs will come from a grant from the Peter M. Wege Foundation. The total is expected to be about $4,300. The cost of the survey and appraisal will be paid for by the Denny Heffron Trust; those charges are expected to be $4,000. No county funds are involved in the transaction.

Assistant County Administrator Mary Swanson said the appraisal should set the property’s value from $2,200 to $2,600 an acre, which would make the donation worth between $182,600 and $215,800.

“This is a wonderful gift to the county,” said Commissioner Carol Hennessy.

“I think this program is of great value to the county,” added Commissioner David Bulkowski, as the committee accepted the donation.

However, Commissioners Nate Vriesman and Shana Shroll voted to turn down the gift and recommended the full commission also reject it on Thursday.

“I don’t think the program is in the best interest of the county,” said Vriesman.

“Until now, I’ve never heard of wanting to get rid of the program,” said Commissioner Jim Talen.

The PDR program isn’t as popular as it was a few years ago when the commission allocated $250,000 to it. The board gave it $87,180 this fiscal year, but the 2014 general fund budget, which commissioners will adopt next month, has only $25,000 allocated to it for next year.

The last time commissioners approved a PDR transaction was in late February when they agreed to buy the development rights of 112 acres from two farms for $290,000, or $2,589 an acre. A grant from the USDA Farmland Preservation Program was expected to cover half the purchase price with $50,000 coming from the county. The remaining amount was to have been covered by grants from local foundations.

“We’re still in the process of closing the last two properties that were approved in February,” said Swanson last week.

Once the transactions close, roughly 2,030 acres on 20 county farms will be preserved and won’t be available for commercial development. Three other programs have set aside nearly 1,000 acres of farmland in the county, which brings the total preserved acreage to 3,000.

Commissioners established the PDR program in November 2002 with a goal of preserving 25,000 acres over its first decade.

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