Farmland preservation will get a boost under York County's proposed 2014 budget, but funds for most other efforts and organizations are unchanged in the preliminary spending plan.
Called special allocations, the fund that includes farmland preservation marks contributions the county will make to quasi-governmental organizations and nonprofits.
The fund increased by only about $5,000 in the proposed 2014 budget, hovering around $6.5 million.
Farmland preservation got the single largest increase in special allocation money budgeted for 2014, but the increase represents unspent money allocated to the cause from previous budget years, said county administrator and chief clerk Chuck Noll. The allocation is set to increase from $54,000 to $151,806.
Agricultural Preservation Program Coordinator Patricia McCandless said the money wasn't spent in previous years because there was more pressure to spend federal and state monies -- totaling about $2 million per year -- that expire if they're not used. Also, there wasn't enough county money available to make an easement purchase, so the money needed to accumulate for a few years, she said.
The average price of easements, through which the preservation organization essentially pays farmers in exchange for preserving farms from development, is about $2,800 per acre this year. There's a minimum easement size of 50 acres, so the minimum purchase this year should run at about $140,000.
Preservation debate: The price of easements is down by nearly half, having cost $4,500 per acre at the peak of value when the building industry was stronger.
Several years ago, there had been considerable pressure on the county to preserve farms because development was at an all-time high. McCandless said her organization went from buying easements on as many as 24 farms per year in the late '90s to between three and six easement purchases per year in recent years.
Commissioners have disagreed about the need to fund the program in the sluggish economy, with President Commissioner Steve Chronister saying there is less of a need to buy easements when there's little pressure from developers. Vice President Commissioner Doug Hoke argues the opposite, saying Monday that this is the best time to make purchases.
"Buying when the land values are down, you get more for your money," he said. "If you wait until the value is fives times higher, you get less land."
As the residential housing industry slowly rebuilds from recession, McCandless said, she'd like to see even more money spent on preservation.
But she said she understands budget restraints.
"When you're in the commissioner's chair, you really are juggling a huge county budget, and they have to establish their own priorities," she said. "We're always happy when the commissioners allocate something."
Other areas: Designations decreased in other areas of the special allocation budget, though the changes aren't necessarily reflective of lower spending.
For example, the county contributed $50,000 to the York County Rail Trail Authority last year, but has allocated no donation for this year. However, the authority and related recreation projects are being funded through another part of the budget: York County's portion of fees paid by natural gas drillers in the Marcellus Shale Formation.
The Springettsbury Fire Co., which has merged to become part of a larger regional fire department, had been allocated $4,275 in previous years but isn't budgeted for anything in 2014. Hoke said that's because the firefighters didn't ask for any money this year.
There is new special allocation spending in at least one area. The county budgeted $60,000 to pay for a criminal justice planner who works for the York County Planning Commission. Her position had previously been funded by a grant, but the grant expired, Noll said.
Hoke said commissioners decided to fund the position because the data the planner collects are used to secure grants and also show how various crime-reduction programs are working.
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at email@example.com.