This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first farm preservation in Delaware Township. Since then, through the willingness of Delaware’s farmers and landowners, the generosity of Township taxpayers, and the hard work of volunteers the Township has preserved over 5,600 acres. As this is being written, another 560 acres awaits closing. Altogether, that puts approximately 26% of Township land under preservation – a phenomenal accomplishment.
But the Township’s preservation fund is nearly empty, and the land preservation effort in Delaware Township stands at a crossroads. When the deals preserving these 560 acres are settled, every dollar of the Township’s available funding will be allocated for the next 17 years, according to Linda Gage, Open Space Coordinator. When the next farmer decides to preserve his land, Delaware Township government will have to tell him, “Sorry, we’re out of money”. Without the ability to cost-share, other funding sources like the County and non-profit organizations are less likely to participate. Having our own preservation fund enables us to leverage other funding.
Some people might tell you that the township just needs to tighten its land use ordinances or reduce the allowable building lots; that way we don’t have to raise our taxes to pay for preservation. But this is an oversimplification and represents a misunderstanding of land preservation. Land use regulation will help control development; it will not preserve open spaces and farmland.
The Township has benefited primarily from two state-run preservation programs: The Farmland Preservation Program and Green Acres. The Farmland Program was created to help preserve the agricultural industry by keeping land available for farming and simultaneously injecting capital. The Green Acres program was created to provide space for public outdoor recreation and to protect environmentally sensitive areas. Both programs look for municipalites that will offer a share of the funding when considering whether to finance a project. Without a well funded open space budget, Delaware Township would not have been in a position to take advantage of these programs in the past. And without a well funded budget going forward, we will not be able to take advantage of them in the future.
As the saying goes “you can’t buy your way out of development”. There is not enough money in the entire County to preserve all of Delaware Township. We need both sound planning and land preservation as tools in our “protection kit”. The effort to “keep it the way it is” or “keep it rural” is not an easy one and there is no simple solution.
Any government-run program will occasionally be mismanaged and land preservation is not unique. The Post has pointed to the Grano purchase as one instance of mismanagement. Even so, in Delaware Township, the Farm Preservation Program and Green Acres have been wildly successful. The Township has provided capital to farmers, helping to keep agriculture viable. It has preserved environmentally sensitive areas, protecting both wildlife habitat and clean water. It has opened some lands to the public, creating large areas for hiking and recreation. And, most importantly, it has helped to protect the rural beauty of the Township.
Voting to raise taxes in the most highly-taxed state in the nation may seem like a bad investment. But voting against it, in the case of land preservation, is a false economy.
The Post supports the Open Space Referendum. In each of the last 20 years, land has been preserved in Delaware Township because willing landowners have stepped forward. But the Township will have to turn down those offers soon if continued funding is not available. Vote yes to protect Delaware.