Lehigh County Commissioners Pass Amendment to Fund Farmland Preservation!


Midnight

It was some time near midnight.  Everyone was beyond tired.  The proposal was presented by Percy Dougherty.  An interesting discussion ensued.  Different proposals were presented by different commissioners.  In the end, seven of the nine Lehigh County Commissioners voted for the Dougherty-Creighton amendment to the budget to fund $500,000 of unused Green Futures Fund money for farmland preservation conservation easements!

Thank you Percy Dougherty and Tom Creighton for this proposal.   This proves that elected officials can be strong supporters of farmland preservation and careful stewards of public money at the same time.  You are our “Farmland Preservation Super-Heroes.”

superherohigh5

The proposal that passed was the proposal RenewLV supported.  We consider this is a clear “win” for farmland preservation in the Lehigh Valley.

As presented, these funds will require a match from the local municipality where the farmland is located.  The local and county money will be pooled in order to leverage it to access state dollars.  This leveraging is projected to have the county leveraging its dollars four times.  FOUR TIMES.

But, for this to be supremely effective, local municipalities will need to mobilize money at the local level, the sooner the better.  The ones that are able to do this as early as possible will be the big winners in this program.  Providing local “skin in the game,” as Commissioner Percy Dougherty called it, is the key in the lock to utilizing these funds.  In Northampton County, they have been doing farmland preservation this way for years.  I have spoken to local municipal leaders who are extremely proud that they direct EIT (Earned Income Tax) dollars to farmland preservation leveraging programs like this.  Now, there’s an opportunity for Lehigh County townships to be contributing in this same way.

Here’s how the voting went:

Sheller yes

Schware no

Mazziotti yes

Jones yes

Osborne yes

Holt no

Dougherty yes

Creighton yes

Brace yes

A special heart-felt thank you to ALL of the Lehigh County commissioners for your public service, (yes, even you “no” voters).  Truth be told, I felt a little guilty leaving council chambers after the vote at a little after mid-night, knowing that you were all slogging through budget amendments into the wee hours with no end in sight.  You have difficult decisions to make.  Sometimes holding public office is an endurance test.

Polls consistently show that Lehigh Valley residents value farmland preservation, but we need elected officials to help preserve it.  Agricultural preservation zoning at the local municipal level is an important tool in farmland preservation, but not permanent.  Conservation easements are “farmland forever,” or nearly so, which is why county programs like this are critical.

Deep, deep gratitude to those seven commissioners who supported this proposal. Thank you!  Even deeper gratitude to the amazing RenewLV board members Julie Thomases and Lower Macungie Township Commissioner Ron Beitler for their editorial in yesterday’s Morning Call, their presentations last night, and for being tireless advocates for farmland preservation.  A special shout out to citizens who showed up and spoke up (Vicky Bastidas, Mike Siegal (sp?)) even those who didn’t go the distance.

Future generations of Lehigh Valley residents will be able to access food, start food-based businesses and breathe clean air (at least in some parts of Lehigh County) because of your good work.  Farmland preservation is economic development.  Thank you to the entire RenewLV board for your support of this initiative.  A big high five all around!  You are all my farmland preservation super-heroes!

Posted on October 15, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I planned to speak in support of the farmland preservation budget amendment on behalf of the 584 members of the Sierra Club who reside in Lehigh County, but I had to leave the meeting at 10:30 pm.
    I was a municipal solicitor for 24 years and have appeared as an attorney before many municipal bodies. I have never seen a municipal meeting run so poorly. I was dumbfounded that the Lehigh County Commissioners were so unprepared to discuss their pending budget, that those Commissioners with detailed questions about specific budget items had not bothered to speak weeks in advance with the department heads involved, and that they seemed more interested in scoring debating points with the County administrators than in doing their job as prudent legislators properly.
    There were a ridiculous 47 proposed amendments to the County budget,17 from a single Commissioner (who had not bothered to discuss his concerns in advance with the appropriate administrators). One debate on a single amendment took almost two hours.
    No government body should make attending residents sit through six hours of a budget debate.
    Shame on these Commissioners who do not understand how to do their job responsibly.

    – Donald W. Miles

    Lehigh Valley Sierra Club chair

    Bethlehem (Lehigh County), PA

  2. Don, I respect your opinion and understand your frustration. It’s clear that there was homework that could have been done prior to the meeting, but I’m not sure who was responsible for doing it. Hopefully, in the future there will be better communication between the administration, the council and department heads earlier in the budget process.

  3. Meanwhile, next door in Northampton County, John Brown has defunded Farmland Preservation totally for his first two years in office, an unprecedented move and bizarre since taxpayers are paying 1/2 mill each year that was instituted in 2008 to fund open space. Evidently maximizing tax payer return is a concept that is unknown to him. Council made up for his gross stupidity last year, and by putting up $1.5 million between the county and towns, the partners got over $.90 on the dollar in state matching – $1.4 million. This year he again has zeroed out the farmland budget, and if it stays that way over a million in matching will be lost.

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