County board OKs farmland program
TO LEARN MORE OR TO APPLY
If you want to learn more about Rock County’s new PACE/PDR program or if you are interested in participating, call the Rock County Planning and Development Department at (608) 757-5587 or visit www.co.rock.wi.us and click on the planning and development link under “Departments.”
JANESVILLE It took just short of two years to create a program that could protect some Rock County farmland forever.
The Rock County Board on Thursday unanimously approved the county’s first PACE/PDR program and the manual for the new program.
“PACE” stands for purchase of agricultural conservation easement. “PDR” stands for purchase of development rights.
The program will allow the county to pay landowners for the value of their land. The land would not be sold but would be put into a permanent easement preventing development. This could give a choice to some landowners who don’t want to sell their properties to developers but do want to realize the full value of the land.
Farmland typically brings a higher price when it is sold for development than when it is sold for continued farming.
The county in February 2009 authorized the development of an ad hoc committee to research and create the program.
The committee was made of landowners, developers, builders and representatives from local municipalities.
The goal was to “to seek a method to preserve and enhance Rock County’s agricultural and agri-business” enterprises, said Al Sweeney, county board member and chairman of the ad hoc committee.
The county immediately will solicit applications, Sweeney said. County planning and development staff members will review applications as will a newly created PACE council, Sweeney said.
Qualified applications will be forwarded to the state. Sweeney thinks Rock County properties will rate high in the state’s PDR program because of the committee’s hard work and the high quality of Rock County’s soil.
“We’re in the state’s eye,” Sweeney said.
It’s no secret that the state could cut PACE funding from the budget, Sweeney said, but that wouldn’t kill the county program. In other states, similar programs have weathered periods without state cash.
As an alternative, the county could seek grant money or private money to pay landowners, Sweeney said. Or, landowners could donate property in exchange for tax credits, he said. The county also has $700,000 set aside for use in the PACE program.
To get the best land for the buck, the ad hoc committee designed a set of weighted criteria that will be used to score each property in the county. The properties with the highest scores will be the first to qualify for PACE.
The criteria include size, development pressure, soil quality, whether the parcel is in a transportation corridor and the proximity of the land to environmentally sensitive areas.
The scores are not permanent and could change as parcels are protected under the program.
Sweeney said the collaborative work of the ad hoc committee would pave the way for other intergovernmental cooperative efforts.
“This collaboration will lead to more collaboration in the future on problems that are unique and not unique to Rock County,” Sweeney said.