Blair budget to support farmland preservation
County to allocate $120,000 from Marcellus Shale revenue fund
HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County’s 2020 budget will allocate $120,000 in Marcellus Shale revenue for support of the county’s farmland preservation program.
Commissioners, who heard the funding request during a recent budget session, voted Tuesday in favor of setting the 2020 allocation at the same level as the county’s 2019 allocation, also afforded with Marcellus Shale revenue.
“This isn’t general fund money,” Commissioner Terry Tomassetti said in reference to the county’s account supported with real estate tax revenue.
While the county used to allocate general fund money to support farmland preservation — and typically set aside about $40,000 annually — allocations have increased in recent years because of money generated by Marcellus Shale drilling activities and made available to the county.
The county has about $145,000 in its Marcellus Shale revenue account, Assistant Finance Director Sarah Chuff reported Tuesday as commissioners considered the 2020 allocation request.
It will probably get about $120,000 more in 2020, Chuff estimated.
Conservation District Director Donna Fisher told commissioners that because of the county’s 2019 allocation of $120,000, the conservation district was able to access almost $348,000 in state farmland preservation funds.
And with a portion of the county’s allocation and the state’s funds, Fisher said Tuesday that the conservation district was ready to acquire an agricultural conservation easement for its 55th farm, consisting of almost 160 acres in Huston Township with a value of $238,379.
Prior to adding the 55th farm, the conservation district pursued and completed acquisitions of three other farms in 2019, which Fisher referred to “a banner year” that reduced the district’s farmland preservation funds to $21,800.
“Therefore, we are staring 2020 from scratch,” Fisher said.
In response to Fisher’s reports, Commissioners Tomassetti, Bruce Erb and Ted Beam Jr. voted in favor of the easement acquisition of the 55th farm, then followed through setting the allocation for farmland preservation at $120,000 in the 2020 draft budget.
Since Blair County initiated a farmland preservation program in 1991, it has preserved 7,854 acres in eight townships, making it a leader in the central Pennsylvania region, Fisher said.
Fisher told commissioners there are about 20 farms on the program’s current waiting list.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.