GOP Lehigh County Commissioner Candidates Weigh In on Funding Farmland Preservation
Smart Growth = Save Our Lands, Save Our Towns.
When I wrote to you a couple of days ago, I told you that I would be attending Monday night’s GOP Candidates Night for Lehigh County Commission to ask where candidates stand with respect to funding farmland preservation, an important tool in saving our lands.
Today I’m writing to you with the answer…
Four seats for Lehigh County Council are up for grabs. The Republican primary will feature a five-person race that includes three current commissioners:
Amanda Holt, 32, of Upper Macungie, current commissioner
Brad Osborne, 59, of South Whitehall, current commissioner
Vic Mazziotti, 68, of Allentown, current commissioner
Marty Nothstein, 44, of Lowhill Township, Olympic gold and silver medalist in cycling, executive director of the Velodrome
Dean Browning, 59, of South Whitehall Township, former county commissioner
The four winners in the primary will advance to the November election and run against the four winning Democrats.
Competing for the Democratic nominations are:
Dan Hartzell, 63, of South Whitehall Township, a recently retired Morning Call reporter;
Joanne Jackson, 68, of Center Valley, a former Allentown school director;
Bob Martin, 54, of Upper Macungie, who has worked in marketing and corporate communications;
Hillary A. Smith, 36, of Lower Macungie Township, a freelance copywriter and marketing professional who serves as vice chairwoman of the Lehigh County Democratic Committee.
Lehigh County in the past has allocated funds to the farmland preservation fund ranging from $2M annually from 2006-2010 to a low of 0 in 2011. In 2015 the county allocated $250,000. When the County allocates money it receives $2.50 cents in Commonwealth funding for every dollar.
Compensating landowners market value for development rights (purchasing easements) is generally considered a fair and free market way to preserve farmland over the long term. Second, it’s a fact that preservation reduces local and state municipal obligations to provide services and infrastructure related to conventional suburban development.
Preserving farmland can be a key component to keep taxes sustainably low over the long term.
For every dollar we spend to preserve farmland that is zoned suburban it saves us .15 to .50 cents on each one of those dollars down the road. This figure is even higher if we leverage our dollars with state and county.
The question was posed “Would you support restoring funding of the County Farmland preservation program to previous levels?”
Answers were recorded digitally, but are posted here in an abbreviated fashion.
Marty Nothstein: “I’m a conservationist.” “I own preserved farmland.” “Development is important but so is preserving our countryside.””We need to look at more ways to preserve farms.””We need to do a better job of finding strategic ways to preserve including partnering with townships.” “We need to do a better job of finding money…” “When you have farmers that want to see their land protected forever, I think that’s important to residents of Lehigh County.”
Amanda Holt: “Our natural resources our important and it’s something that’s talked about in the Pennsylvania Constitution.” “Important issue but I’m concerned the average age of farmers is now 57 here in Lehigh County. Looking at the cost I wonder if this is going to be an effective means of really preserving the farmland looking at the average age of farmers. This is something we really need to take look at. We do need to consider moving forward how we can adhere to what the state constitution says and what works best for our situation here in Lehigh County.”
Brad Osborne: “I do know that farmland preservation has been promoted as a good program. The Green Futures Fund generated $20 million. It ended. Can we revive it? Farmland absorbs only .33 cents of every tax dollar generated whereas residential requires over a dollar.” “Specific requests need to be in line with the bigger picture. A larger plan is needed.” “Property tax reform could change the entire question.” “We need to evaluate this further.”
Vic Mazzioti: “There are three ways we’ve funded preservation in the past. First, through tax dollars. Another was the sale of assets, and we received grants from the state.” “I’m for continuing the program. But if we do it with general tax dollars, that requires further discussion.” “In the meantime I think we should continue funding the program through the other two sources I mentioned. 1. Any assets that we sell. 2. Grants that we receive that permit us to use those funds for farmland preservation.”
Dean Browning: “The program from early 2000 generated $30 million, and we did not need to borrow. We funded it out of revenue. I was Chairman of the Sterling Raeburn Farmland Preservation Committee. I see the benefit of the program, however I am reluctant to continue it absent any specific vote by the taxpayers saying they want the program re-instituted, and number two, identifying a specific funding source for it.”
RenewLV offers no endorsements of candidates. We will continue to ask candidates questions about farmland preservation and funding strategies and let voters make up their own minds. We welcome candidates contacting our office with a full written statement on their position on funding farmland preservation that we can share with a broad audience.
These excerpts were recorded with the help of Lower Macungie Township Commissioner and RenewLV board member, Ron Beitler. Thank you, Ron.
To connect with more information, you can check out the Friends for the Preservation of Lower Macungie Township Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/friendsLMT
Or Ron Beitler’s blog for his third-party commentary and discussion:
Wherever you live, we hope that you mark your calendar and plan to show up at the polls as an informed citizen for the Primary election on Tuesday, May 19th.
Executive Director, RenewLV