This time of year Forks families take for granted the tiny green shoots sprouting all over local farm fields that will soon be high with corn. Residents worried about overdevelopment strongly support saving our valuable farmlands. Did you know that farmlands generate more in local property tax revenue than residential developments? Farmlands are easier on municipal budgets and demand far fewer municipal services.
Pennsylvania voters and taxpayers have consistently supported farmland preservation, using state funds to create incentives for governments like Forks to allocate local funds that save irreplaceable farmland. In fact, conservationists rate Pennsylvania’s Farmland Preservation Program among the most successful in the nation. Or it was, until Governor Tom Corbett decided to take an axe to farmland preservation in his new budget.
Corbett plans to redirect $20.485 million from the Farmland Preservation Program and use it for general government operations, according to Conservation Advocates.org, the website of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association. They warn that this action will permanently eliminate the only significant state-dedicated funding for farmland preservation in Pennsylvania.
Where has this $20 million come from? It is funded through an annual allotment of cigarette tax revenue as well as Growing Greener II bond funds. According to the Bureau of Farmland Preservation, as of December 2011, state, county and local governments have invested more than $1 billion to safeguard 457,537 acres of 4,229 farms.
Realizing what a loss this would be to Forks Township, Supervisor Bob Egolf asked Supervisors to join with other Townships and support restoration of state farmland preservation funds.
To curb conversion of prime farmlands to non-agricultural uses, the Commonwealth initiated a preservation fund in 1998. Not only has productive farmland been saved, but local governments were empowered to purchase “conservation easements” from owners of valuable farmland. This has also been one important tool for municipalities to control suburban sprawl.
For Forks residents concerned about conserving our environment, the baffling question is: Why is Governor Corbett abandoning Farmland Preservation at the same time he is giving Shell Oil Corporation a massive $1.7 billion tax break, that PennEnvironment calls “the largest corporate welfare deal of its type in state history?”
PennEnvironment is circulating an online petition against giving Shell Oil such a whopping gift from Pennsylvania taxpayers. They claim Shell Oil “made more in profit last year than Pennsylvania’s entire budget.”
Conservationists ask, how Corbett, who can’t afford to maintain key environmental programs, teachers, or firefighters, can provide such incredible corporate welfare to the world’s second largest company?
They say “all politics is local.” When even more developers come knocking at the Township door to build even more developments and bring even more traffic to Sullivan Trail, will anyone connect the dots that it was Tom Corbett’s idea to quit protecting our valuable farmlands? Thank you Forks Supervisors for defending the Farmland Preservation Program and putting Community First.