RenewLV Develops Farmland Preservation Scorecard for County Candidates

Lehigh Valley County Commission/Council Candidates Weigh-in on Farmland Preservation
“Save It or Pave It”

The biggest challenge facing the Lehigh Valley’s local food economy is the loss of farmland to development, according to the Assessment Report: Local Food Economy.
At Renew Lehigh Valley we care about preserving farmland in the Lehigh Valley.
At the committee level, we have been researching and analyzing this issue for more than a year. The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s 2005 Comprehensive Plan identifies on page 35 that the region’s goal is “To preserve approximately 25% of the land in Lehigh and Northampton counties for agriculture.”
The number of acres being developed is vastly outstripping the number of acres being preserved — in Lehigh County development outstrips preservation by a ratio of 3 to 1. The farms, the farmers, and the local food economy is at risk of being destroyed by development. In order to meet the Lehigh Valley’s Comprehensive Plan’s goal, we must ramp up funding for county farmland preservation programs now.
We believe that today’s election, Tuesday’s November 3rd will determine whether “we save it or pave it” based upon who gets elected to Lehigh County Commission and Northampton County Council.
Polls will be open tomorrow from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. We hope that you vote. We hope that you are a “farmland preservation voter.”
RenewLV Board member and chair of the organization’s farmland preservation committee, Julie Thomases, stated, “At RenewLV we are concerned with the loss of farmland in the region. That’s why we asked the candidates questions and developed a “farmland preservation scorecard.” With the pace of development in the region, we are concerned that the Lehigh Valley will not be able to meet the LVPC’s goal of preserving 25% of its land for agricultural use unless we get very serious very soon about funding county preservation programs. When it’s gone, it’s gone.”
We gave grades (A-F) to the candidates based upon their answers to the following questions. Some of the final grade was objective (in Lehigh County, based on funding levels), some was subjective (based on our conversations with candidates). The counties are different, with different mechanisms for funding farmland preservation. So our questions were different, one county to another. In summary, here are our grades for the candidates:

Lehigh County:
Democratic Candidates:
  Dan Hartzell C
  Joanne Jackson A-
  Bob Martin A-
  Hilary Smith A-
Republican Candidates:
  Marty Nothstein B
  Brad Osborne – D-
  Amanda Holt – not available
  Vic Mazziotti – C+

Northampton County:
Republican Candidates:
    John Cusick A
    Matthew Dietz A
    Democrat Candidates:
    Scott Parsons A
    Ken Kraf (uncontested, not included)
    Robert Werner (uncontested, not included)
    Lori Heffner – A
QUESTIONS to Lehigh County Commissioner Candidates:
1. Do you support farmland preservation?

Democratic Candidates:
Dan Hartzell Yes
Joanne Jackson Yes
Bob Martin Yes
Hilary Smith Yes
Republican Candidates:
Marty Nothstein – Yes
Brad Osborne – Yes
Amanda Holt – not available
Vic Mazziotti – Yes

2. Where is farmland preservation on your list of priorities on a scale of 1-5 (1 high, 5 low)?
Democratic Candidates:
Dan Hartzell – 2
Joanne Jackson – 1
Bob Martin – 2 or 3
Hilary Smith – 2
Republican Candidates:
Marty Nothstein – 1
Brad Osborne – 4 or 5
Amanda Holt – not available
Vic Mazziotti – 1

3. What is the most effective way to preserve farmland?
  a. Conservation easements (deed restrictions)
  b. Agricultural preservation zoning
  c. Agricultural security areas
All available candidates chose a. Conservation Easements
Democratic Candidates:
Dan Hartzell – Conservation Easements
Joanne Jackson – Conservation Easements
Bob Martin – Conservation Easements
Hilary Smith – Conservation Easements
Republican Candidates:
Marty Nothstein – Any options available including easements
Brad Osborne – Conservation Easements
Amanda Holt – not available
Vic Mazziotti – Conservation Easements

4. Do you believe that the county should have a line item in the budget for farmland preservation?

Democratic Candidates:
Dan Hartzell Yes
Joanne Jackson Yes
Bob Martin Yes
Hilary Smith Yes
Republican Candidates:
Marty Nothstein – Yes
Brad Osborne – Yes
Amanda Holt – not available
Vic Mazziotti – Yes

5. At what level per year would you support county funding for farmland preservation easements:
1. none
2. $250,000 Brad Osborne, Vic Mazziotti, Dan Hartzell
3. $500,000 Marty Nothstein
4. $750,000 Joanne Jackson*
5. $1 million Hillary Smith, Bob Martin
* Joanne Jackson said that she supported funding farmland preservation at $750,000 in year one and $1 million in year two.

QUESTIONS to Northampton County Council Candidates:

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission has a goal of preserving 25% of the Lehigh Valley’s land for agriculture. At current funding levels both Lehigh and Northampton Counties will fall short since the rate of development is outpacing preservation.

In 2007 Northampton County instituted a .5 mill tax in part to raise money for open space preservation. It’s raised about 3.7 million each year. Over the last few budget cycles there have been debates about using this money in other areas.

1. Question – Should money generated by this .5 mill tax be used for uses other than those within the original intent of parks or preservation of farmland and/or environmentally sensitive areas?
Cusick: Since the passage of the .5 mill tax, additional sources of funding have become available that can be budgeted for farmland preservation. This would include money that Northampton County receives from Act 13, the impact fee generated from natural gas drilling across the state as well as revenue from table games at the Sands casino. It is also possible to designate revenue from the Hotel Tax for Tourism toward improving and expanding county parks. I strongly support the use of these funds for those efforts. A
Deitz: No, those funds were voted in under the defined purpose of farmland and/or environmentally sensitive areas. This includes not using tax payers money for projects such as the Glovas property and failed golf course that my opponent sponsored. (I have attached articles referencing these projects) These type projects use up the funds and affect the creditability of the intended programs. Better oversight needs to be in place to ensure the integrity and longevity of the program. A
Parsons: The .5 mill tax is not a dedicated tax, it would be great if it was. I would support that. What I will say is in the past 4 years the funding that was budgeted covered all the farms and environmentally sensitive areas that qualified and were brought before council.
Hefner: No, it should be directed for the original purpose except in an egregious case such in the case of a disaster like a massive flood. It should be used for farmland preservation, open space and smart development. A
2. Follow up – If you support preservation, but do not support using this tax money how do you propose funding the farmland preservation program moving forward?
Deitz: I do believe we should use the .5 mill rate voted on by the residents of Northampton County for the farmland preservation program. A
Parsons: I support funding the Open Space Plan for parks, environmentally sensitive areas and farmland preservation. The parks and environmentally sensitive areas through the budget. Farmland preservation through the budget, matching funds from the state, dedicated money from the Chrin development, and matching monies from participating townships. A
3. Do you think preservation of 25% of land for agriculture Valley-wide is a reasonable and achievable goal?

Cusick: Yes. While I would have no control over what happens in our neighboring county, in Northampton County we have been blessed to have a very capable qualified person serving in our farmland preservation department and I am confident she help make it happen. A
Deitz: I do believe it is reasonable and we could also work with the local municipalities for appropriate zoning rules. A
Parsons: Yes. Here in Northampton County we have preserved all the farms that have applied and qualified over the past 4 years. A
Heffner: I would support farmland preservation and the preservation of environmentally at risk areas. We have to protect the water supply.
4. What else do you want voters to know about your position on Farmland Preservation?

Cusick: As a member of Council I served as liaison to the farmland preservation and agricultural extension. I understand the importance of preserving farming as well as farms. Agriculture must be seen as a vital part of the local economy and a viable profession for the next generation. A
Parsons: If re-elected I will continue to support these programs and make sure that we budget enough money each year to keep the program moving forward. I’m proud of the work of the farmland preservation board and the administrator of this program. A
Heffner: I will try to make sure that the county will maintain a reasonable part of its budget to maintain farmland, parks and environmentally sensitive areas to preserve the future of the county. We need smart growth. The county should look into state funds and grants. A

Posted on November 3, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: