Sussex County Farmland Preservation Program Update
The Sussex County Farmland Preservation program has had another busy and productive year. As of December 17th, 31 farms were closed this year adding about 1,924 acres to the program. This brings the total number of farms preserved to 136 (approximately 14,633 acres). Efforts are underway to close on an additional 8 farms by the end of the year; this would add 443 acres to the total and bring the acreage to over 15,000. This program began statewide twenty-six years ago; Sussex County has been an active participant since the late 1980’s with our first acquisition in 1989. Land has been preserved in thirteen of our twenty-four municipalities. There are currently twenty-six farms that have final approvals and are working their way toward closings. For the County 2009 funding cycle, ten farms were appraised and landowners will be receiving their certified offers shortly. Hopefully, through a combination of County and State monies dedicated to non-profits, most of these ten will be preserved.
Sussex County evaluates applications every spring that meet the State criteria for the program. Once an application meets State criteria, it may be selected to be appraised in order to determine the value of the development rights. If a landowner accepts their certified offer, based on the appraisals, then title work and a survey are done for the farm prior to closing. The beauty of this program is that the development rights are sold and the landowner retains ownership of their preserved farmland. That farmland can be sold – but only as a farm. The program also keeps property on the tax rolls as farm assessed land which stays in private ownership.
As the bond question this past November was approved by the voters, funds for both Green Acres and Farmland Preservation will bring a welcome influx of State dollars in 2010. Over the last two years, Sussex County has been pro-active and, on our own, we have preserved twenty-eight farms with County dollars alone as the prior State funding for this program was expended.