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York County residents would be willing to pay at least $11 per year in new taxes to fund open space protection, according to the results of a recent survey.

The Arthur J. Glatfelter Institute for Public Policy at York College conducted the survey for the York County Land Protection Committee and received 2,200 overall responses.

"Property owners are also usually not willing to pay more in property taxes," said Vinny Cannizzaro from York College, who presented the results to the York County Board of Commissioners at a meeting Wednesday, Oct. 30.

"But when it comes to environmental protection work, when it comes to open space protection, we’re finding that people are very willing to pay more," Cannizzaro said.

A tax increase to fund land protection efforts will be part of the commissioners' 2020 budget discussions, but details about the millage rate and the amount of funding needed to meet the county's goal are not yet available, said President Commissioner Susan Byrnes on Wednesday.

The county's comprehensive plan dictates that 2,500 acres, or about 0.4% of the county's total land area, should be protected from development annually.

That's about four square miles.

Over the next 30 years, county officials hope to add an additional 85,000 acres, or 132 square miles, to the county's protected open space.

The added 85,000 acres would equal about 14.5% of the county's overall land area, for a total of about 155,000 acres, or 242 square miles, of protected land.

For the purpose of the survey, analysts defined open space as public or private land and water that's predominantly in a natural state, feasible for passive or active recreation or rich in natural resources.

Land that preserves community character or has agricultural or historical value also falls under this umbrella.

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Survey methodology: In its survey, York College took a two-tier approach.

The first tier entailed a randomized sample of 1,500 residences chosen from about 160,000 households to reflect the county's population distribution, according to the survey report.

Of the 1,500 households that received a survey in the mail, York College received 450 valid responses.

The second tier was an online survey that was available and open to the public for about one month. York College received 1,750 valid submissions from the online survey.

Analysts considered the online responses valid if the respondents identified themselves as York County residents and if the respondents did not participate in the mailed paper survey, according to the report.

About 89% of respondents owned their own homes and about 85% had lived in the county for at least 10 years.

Nearly 30% had children younger than 18 who lived with the respondents.

At least 75% of respondents said they were willing to pay more in taxes to fund open space protection efforts, and 90% said protecting open space is important for future generations.

Seize the day: When developers begin moving into the area, there's usually a public backlash and a push to protect the land, said Felicia Dell, director of the planning commission.

But that's the most difficult time to protect open space because the development pressure increases land values, she said.

"If the county commissioners are thinking about doing anything to support land protection, now is the right time to do it, because we’re not seeing quite the same amount of pressure that we’ve seen in prior years or prior decades," Dell said.

The land protection survey was a collaborative project of the County of York, the York County Planning Commission, York County Parks, the Agricultural Land Preservation Board, the York County Conservation District and the Farm and Natural Lands Trust of York County.

The York County Community Foundation and the Powder Mill Foundation provided grant funding for the survey.

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