Q. I Don’t Own A Farm, And I Can Ride On Parkland, So How Does Ag Preservation Directly Benefit Me?
A. Without Farms, You Will Pay Higher Homeowner Taxes
You don’t have to be a farmer or be wealthy to appreciate the need for ag land preservation.
Because one answer (there are so many) to the title question is that, without agriculture (and, without commercial zones), every one’s pocket book will be affected.
In fact, if you are in the middle to upper middle class tax brackets, this answer is even more important to you, because without good land planning that includes both agriculture and commercial zones in addition to residential zones, you will end up paying more in taxes.
The reasons we need to preserve agriculture lands go beyond a pure sentimentality for “the simple life,” or mere romantic yearning for a bucolic environment.
Yes, we as horse people want and desire (but we don’t “need”) access to open lands. However, our wants and desires are not going to impress the politicians or urban planners. Face it, urban planners are responsible for creating our counties’ master plans–and they are not “urban-rural” planners, they are “urban” planners.
The majority of horse people do not own large spreads to help protect rural land. In Maryland, the majority of horse people–you, our Equiery readers, either own a “farmette” (which may very well be landlocked) or you board your horses at someone else’s farm. So, you, the average horse owner, are not going to be able to directly preserve open farmland. But you can play a role in making sure your county’s master plan contains good “urban-rural interface” (the current buzz word in planning circles).
To make a difference, you need to be able to talk turkey with your politicians and county planning commissioners. And frankly, they don’t really care about your horsey wants and desires, or your romantic bucolic visions. All they care about is if the bottom line is in red ink or black ink, and the one thing they hear repeatedly from the developers is that development will mean more tax dollars for the county coffers.
And they are right. More development will mean more tax dollars for the county.
But what the developers won’t talk about is how many more dollars these new residential areas will consume in services than they will contribute in tax dollars.
What do we mean by services? Schools. Police. Fire & Rescue. Snow removal. Trash & Recycling Services. Road improvements. Stop lights. In some cases, services also means sewer and water–you know, infrastructure.
This is what you need to know: for every $1 paid in taxes, the average residential zone requires more than $1 in services, any where from $1.05–a $1.35 in services, depending upon county surveyed.*
How can that be? Wouldn’t governments go bankrupt?
Because farms, commercial businesses and industry make up the shortfall.
For every $1 paid in taxes, the average rural zone uses .48cnt in services.
For every $1 paid in taxes, the commercial zone requires .39cnt in services.
As horse people, we all want to see open land preserved. This is a given. But, unfortunately, this is not a very strong argument when trying to influence your local zoning process. In fact, “preserving open land for horses,” to the general public and elected officials, sounds rather self-serving and elitist, particularly when they have the promise of a pot of gold from developers.
So, although preserving open land in order to have a place to ride our horses may be our personal and emotional motivation as horse people to support ag preservation policies, we need to have sound arguments for why ag preservation makes good fiscal policy in order to convince our representatives.
Got it: sound zoning plans contain a reasonable mix of agriculture and commercial, not just residential. So, now what can I do?
- Accept that some development is necessary. Planners expect Maryland’s population to increase by about 2 million people over the next 10 years. Accept that these people have to go somewhere, and some development is inevitable.
- Vote. But be careful about for whom you vote–for they will hire the planners who will craft your master plan, they will appoint the commissioners who will vote on zoning, and they will introduce the legislation that will affect your taxes. Educate yourself about the politicians’ platform for growth and development, and make sure they believe in ensuring a good mix of usage, and that they focus programs on redeveloping decaying urban cores and the inner suburbs.
- Educate yourself about planning options. Look at models in neighboring counties or states, look for what worked and didn’t work. Of course, no one has time to research every master plan out there, but if you are visiting somewhere and you see something you like or you hate, ask how it happened. For example, many horse people are astounded when they drive through Green Spring and Worthington Valleys in Baltimore. The Valleys are impressive because thirty years ago they zoned their rural density for a minimum of 50 acres per house, with the areas closer to Baltimore City having a much higher density of dwellings per acre in order to direct development into those areas. Europe does not have the luxury of abundant land like we do, so they have never been able to afford to ignore their inner population cores for new fringe development. We can learn lessons from them.
- Be aware of and involved in your area’s planning process. If you were building a new home, you would be involved in the design and construction. Well, your community is your home–be involved in the design and construction, because it is not going to remain static. Everyone has websites these days, so it is no longer as difficult as it used to be to get information about meetings and agendas. And be ready with sound financial arguments.
- Support programs that encourage ag preservation and redevelopment of abandoned or decaying urban/suburban areas. There are private, charitable programs as well as county, state, and federal programs. Support programs that make it possible for farmers to continue profitably farming, and you will help to ensure preservation of farmland.
- Of course, as with every rule, there are exceptions. In Maryland, the exceptions tend to revolve around the square footage of the house; the more square footage, the more taxes those individual homeowners pay. So, an area with 5 acre zoning (lower population), sporting $500,000 and up mini-mansions won’t have quite the disparity in service dollars returned. But this is the exception to the rule. However, that does create a plethora of other planning problems, too complex to explore here.