PDR likely to receive more money to invest


    Because Kent County commissioners agreed last month to allocate tax dollars from the general fund to preserve farmland, the Kent County Farm Bureau decided to pledge $10,000 of its revenue to the effort.

    “As a result of the county’s 2010 general fund appropriation to the PDR program, the Farm Bureau awarded $10,000 to the county at its Dec. 29th meeting,” said Daryl Delabbio, county administrator and controller.

    The Frey Foundation followed with a grant worth $7,500.

    The county now can use those monies for matching amounts that are needed to secure a federal preservation grant, but only if commissioners formally accept the dollars, and they are fully expected to do so this week. Then the $17,500 would be appropriated to the Kent County Agricultural Preservation Board, which oversees the county’s Purchase of Development Rights program.

    While the Farm Bureau dollars can be applied to an acquisition anywhere in the county, the Frey Foundation grant is restricted to properties in Alpine and Sparta townships.

    But a few members of the county’s Finance Committee questioned last week whether funds coming to the program can, or should, be targeted to specific townships.

    “It’s a concern that I’ve had throughout this,” said Commissioner Richard Vander Molen.

    However, Commissioner Jim Talen said Alpine and Sparta townships have the properties the county wants to preserve because farms in both locales have received the highest scores for soil quality from the preservation board.

    “It is priority land that will be preserved here,” said Talen.

    Kendra Wills of the Kent/MSU Extension Office and a PDR consultant to the county said contributions can be made to the program for specific townships. She noted grants that have come from the Grand Rapids Community and Steelcase foundations could be applied to any property countywide, while those that have originated from the Wege Foundation have normally been designated for land in the county’s northwest section.

    But regardless of where a farm is located, Wills said the key element for preservation is a property’s soil. “We have to have 50 percent prime and unique soil, period,” she said for any farm in the county to qualify for a federal or state preservation grant.

    Although the county didn’t purchase any development rights last year, Wills said there are 10 farms on the PDR waiting list and three were being appraised in Sparta Township. She also said that Sparta Township has already contributed $10,000 to the program and Alpine Township has paid for two property appraisals worth a total of $3,000.

    The donation from the Farm Bureau to the PDR program was the organization’s second. The bureau also contributed $10,000 in 2006. The Frey Foundation has been a consistent supporter of the program and has contributed more than $200,000 to it.

    The preservation board will soon decide the next step the program will take, and that decision will come before commissioners for approval. Finance Committee Chairman Dean Agee said that any money appropriated from the county has to be ratified by the panel and then go to the full board for approval.

    Commissioners agreed to allocate $275,000 to the PDR program in December as part of a three-year, $1 million commitment to preserve county farmland and orchards. It marked the first time in the program’s seven-year history that county dollars were assigned to the preservation effort. That funding plan came from the Open Spaces Subcommittee, which was led by Commission Chairwoman Sandi Frost Parrish.

    Commissioners established the PDR program in 2002. Since then, $3.8 million has been spent and 758 acres have been preserved, meaning that those properties can’t be purchased for commercial development.

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