Farm Bureau seeks increased funds to preserve farms in Wayne County

‘Farmland pays for itself’

By TOM KANE

HONESDALE, PA - Farmland is disappearing at an alarming rate in the nation and in Wayne County.

In order to impact this trend locally, members of the Wayne/Pike Farm Bureau and the Agriculture Land Preservation Board are looking to preserve more farmland in Wayne County. To that end, the group appeared before the Wayne County Commissioners on December 19 to ask the county to raise their support of the farm preservation program from $30,000 to $100,000.

“We should all worry because Wayne County is losing farms rapidly,” said Marian Schweighofer, farm bureau information director. Since the 1950s, Pennsylvania has lost more than four million acres of farmland to development, she said. “During the ‘90s, our population grew by only 17 percent,” she said. “We were ranked 48th in the nation in population growth, yet our land development for housing projects grew by 47 percent and placed us among the top five states for converting farm ground to development.”

Farmland pays for itself

Schweighofer cited a Penn State University study called “The Cost of Community Services” that detailed the mistaken assumption that new households pay their share of taxes. “That’s the point. They don’t,” she said. “Homes cost the entire community money because they demand the services supported by taxes. They need police, ambulance, road improvement, the new teachers and schools and numerous other services and facilities supported by tax revenues. In fact, they use more tax dollars than they pay in.”

Farms require very little in return for paying in a great deal of revenue. “The property tax payments of farmers actually help subsidize or lower the overall taxes of the homeowners because they don’t use these services to the extent that residences do,” she said. This is also true for commercial and industrial taxpayers.

To demonstrate the impact of what she was saying, Schweighofer presented a chart that explained how much community services cost and how much various categories of taxpayers contribute and how much they take.

“For every one dollar collected from residences, it cost $1.25 to pay for the services that these residences demand,” she said. She, subsequently, showed how commercial and industrial enterprises and farms put minimal demands on community services from municipal governments and schools.

Selling property rights saves farms

Schweighofer said that the purchase of development rights to a property has the same effect as outright purchases for preserving the farm. “When farmers sell their development rights, they can still farm but can never subdivide the property for development.

She emphasized that the farm bureau is not against growth. “We just want it to be responsible to all the current citizens and the future generations of Wayne County,” she said.

The commissioners promised to respond to the farm bureau’s request sometime in the near future. “It was this very commissioner’s board that is sitting now that created the farm preservation program in 1991, so we are much in favor of it,” said Tony Herzog, chairman of the commissioners.

TRR photo by Tom Kane
Marian Schweighofer of the Wayne/Pike Farm bureau speaks to Wayne County Commissioners about the need to protect farmland. (Click for larger version)