Northampton County is on track to preserve more farms than ever before, thanks to a concerted effort by the county, state and several municipalities.
Oh, and the housing slump played its part.
The county expects to use $6.18 million of 2012 money to purchase the development rights of 30 farms, which will preserve 868 acres, according to Maria Bentzoni, the county’s Farmland Preservation administrator.
With $2 million from the county and another $1.89 million from four townships, Northampton County received the most state matching funds of any county in the state for 2012, she said.
“The fact that the market is down, that was another way we made our dollars go further,” Bentzoni said. “Obviously we want to strike when the market is down because we don’t have the competition from the builders and developers [buying land].”
Some municipalities have a .25 percent earned income tax dedicated toward farm preservation and open space. Of those, Plainfield, Moore and Upper and Lower Mount Bethel townships contributed the $1.89 million to the county’s efforts to preserve farms.
Bushkill Township is using its .25 earned income tax to preserve farms on its own, she said. So far it has bought the development rights of two farms.
Even after preserving the county backlog of 30 farms, there will still be more to do, according to Bentzoni. “Our office is constantly fielding calls,” she said. “We just got a call from a man who wants to preserve 90 acres.”
Northampton County Executive John Stoffa proposed a budget for 2013 that contains $1 million for farm preservation. Bentzoni is hopeful the County Council will see this as a good time for the program to get the most bang for their bucks.
In the long run, it will save county taxpayers money because farms cost communities much less than do housing developments, she said.
“People don’t realize the financial impact of one farm that gets developed,” Bentzoni said. Unlike housing subdivisions, farms require few public services, such as road maintenance, snow plowing, police and schools.
But farming is also important to the economy.
“It’s not just the views and the vistas they provide,” she said. “It’s an economic driver. Agriculture is the number one industry in the state.”
The county used 2011 money to preserve 16 farms for a total of 797 acres.
Before this year, the most farms the county had ever preserved was 21 with about $10.1 million in 2006 money, which included Growing Greener II funds from the state.