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Long residents need to work to keep farms
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Editor, I recently read in The Progressive Farmer magazine, March edition, that we are losing two acres of farmland every minute to housing development. I ask our community for help in saving our farmland because it is obviously going to take a grassroots effort to keep a farming community just that - farming.
County governments like new houses built. It means more tax revenue. But, studies show the costs of the extra infrastructure means more schools, law enforcement, utilities maintenance, roads and road maintenance can easily cost more than the extra revenue. When trying to decide between farms or new houses, the community of Dunn, Wis., discovered that in residential areas, it was paying $1.06 in services for each tax dollar it collected. Further development would cost the town money.
The article also pointed out the big mistake most communities make is assuming (and we know what that word leads to) zoning alone will work. It won't work simply because landowners lose. They easily see through the unfairness of losing development rights, through conservation easements and bearing the burden they believe should be shared by everyone. For example, our 2007 assessment rose five-fold this year due to an 800-acre housing project currently under way. In taxes, this will mean half of my husbands yearly retirement check, and there's nothing there yet but an 800-acre hole. Zoning is not the word to use in a discussion about keeping land in farms. No one is fooled by the double standards, the "do as we say, not as we do" politics are a sure vote out.
What is working is the concept of buying development rights from farmers. Back in Dunn, Wis., the people chose farms over houses. In 1996, citizens raised their property taxes 50 cents per $1,000 valuation so they could begin buying development rights from landowners. This town has a 200-year plan, not a short-sighted one, such as Atlanta. Selling development rights to the community fund shares the burden, allows farmers to keep their land, or to sell it without penalty. The county requires the land farmers choose to place in its conservation program to remain in agriculture. The farmers are paid the difference between farmland and what it's worth if it were developed.
Preserving farms has to be a grassroots effort. Is it worth an extra 50 cents to insure a Sunday drive in the country? How about as a thank you for all the hundreds of miles of country roads donated to you and the county by farmers who never received a cent for it and lost a section of his land to boot? When you see that school bus, walk to your mailbox, or simply live in the country, thank a farmer for your road. And remember, we are losing two acres of farmland every minute. God bless America.

Penny Salter
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