It is time to start funding the land preservation program
Sustainable Calvert Network is asking the Board of County Commissioners to restore land preservation funding back to at least $2.5 million.
According to a recent Preserve Maryland Survey, more than 75% of Calvert County Residents support protecting agricultural lands and waterways. So why would the funds put aside for land preservation be cut by more than 50%? These funds are intended to pursue the long-standing county goal of 40,000 acres of land permanently preserved.
As reported in the Commissioners budget, the county preserved about 100 acres last year. At that rate, it would take the county 100 years to reach its goal of 40,000 acres of prime farm and forest land preserved (currently 30,000 acres preserved), but that won’t happen because the lands would have been lost already. The current budget calls for $917,654 to be spent on the Purchase and Retirement (PAR) Fund. At $4,500 per TDR, that would only preserve about 204 acres, thus taking 50 years to reach the 40,000 acre goal. More funding is needed
From the turn of the century until the Great Recession, Calvert County budgets included about $2.5 million per year for land preservation with monies from the increase in the Recordation Tax. The money from the Recordation Tax increase continues to come in and the new budget shows an increase of $664,000 over last year’s budget, but it is not being used for that purpose even though that was the reason that the Commissioners increased the tax
The land preservation community was thrilled last year when the Commissioners increased the PAR budget to $2,739,000. What happened? Where did the money go?
In our land preservation community, we have been extremely disappointed that there has not been a Calvert County Rural Legacy application for the past two years. Governor Hogan has moved to full funding of land preservation programs out of a desire to preserve rural Maryland landscapes and yet Calvert land owners have not been able to participate. The state has a matching funds option which would further leverage of county monies if we would only participate. The next cycle begins in February. If we don’t even apply and put money in the budget for matching state programs, we are ignoring a great opportunity.
According to the 2018 BEACON Report, Calvert’s rural economies generated over $100 million in economic benefit in 2018. According to a study by Dr. Elliott Campbell, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Calvert’s rural lands produce $195 million in ecosystem services each year. What is an ecosystem service? It can be broadly defined as a benefit people receive from the environment such as stormwater mitigation, nutrient uptake, air quality improvement, and wildlife habitat that benefits both hunters and wildlife watchers. However, the study cautions that we lost about $1.5 million in ecosystem services each year from 1973 to 2010 for a total loss of $55 million as Calvert changed from 6% developed to 30% developed. Factoring $100 million per year in economic benefit and $195 million in ecosystem services benefit, our rural lands are too important to allow them to be further carved up with suburban sprawl.
More urban counties have already seen their landscapes change so much that major roads and towns flood regularly when it rains. And then there is Ellicott City whose downtown has nearly been destroyed twice in just two years due to changes in the landscape surrounding the town and heavy rainfall. Meanwhile hunters and birdwatchers in those counties have to travel outside their counties to find natural rural wildlife habitats that they once had.
We know that the first year is a very busy year for new Commissioners and it may be that the Board has not had the time to study this issue. Increasing the land preservation budget to $2.5 million would be a sign that preserving our rural heritage is an important issue for the Board.