- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The state of Maryland has created a monster with SB236, the “septic bill.” Today we sit within a strongly divided county. Each side feels very strongly in either their support or opposition to the implementation of the tier system that structures the septic bill.
Those who oppose the Balanced Growth Initiative tier map claim that the result will be mass urban sprawl and total destruction of all natural resources. Those who support the BGI tier map claim that the map will encourage economic development and protect property rights.
As a farmer, I support the BGI tier map, but for reasons that many people might not be aware of. I am 100 percent in favor of land and agriculture preservation. When farming is your business, you need undeveloped land to stay in business. That being said, I believe that preservation should be done voluntarily, by the landowner, and that landowner must receive proper and fair compensation for choosing to preserve his farmland.
It is my firm belief that the sole purpose of SB236 is to force land into preservation, without fair and just compensation. In fact, there is no compensation.
So why does this matter to a farmer? For several reasons. First, the septic bill will prevent younger generations from remaining on the farm because they will not be allowed to build their own houses there.
Secondly, the bill robs the farmer of the value of his property. Land in tier IV will be regulated at one house per 20 acres, as opposed to one house per three acres. To put it simply, 400 acres with allowable housing of one house per three acres is obviously worth more money than four hundred acres of allowable housing of one house per twenty acres.
Thirdly, property in tier IV will eliminate the need for farmers to be compensated for giving up their development rights. Simply put, this is robbery of farmland by the state and county.
So now that you know why I support the BGI tier map, you may be asking why a farmer who supposedly does not wish to develop his land would care about development rights. There are also several reasons for that.
Farming can be profitable, but it can also be very expensive. For example, a new combine can cost up to $500,000. A new large 200-horsepower tractor can easily cost up to $250,000. Farmers are usually land rich and cash poor, so that land acts as collateral when purchasing new equipment. The less value a farmer has in her land, the less money the farmer will have to spend on expanding the operations of the farm.
Also, this bill does absolutely nothing to preserve agriculture in the state. If the state truly wants to preserve agriculture, then the state should do the complete opposite of what it is currently doing.
The state and county must make farmland as valuable as possible and then develop a strong transfer-of-development-rights program. This would encourage farmers to sell their development rights, which would preserve agriculture and put money in the pockets of farmers so that they can expand their business. This would be a winning situation for everyone.
Lastly, this bill will drive children away from the farm. Why would a child stay on the farm if they cannot live there and the land has no value?
If agriculture is to continue in Charles County, we cannot simply force farmers to keep their land. We must generate programs to help young farmers either get into farming or continue farming, and we certainly should not rob farmers of their property rights.
David Hancock Jr., Newburg
The writer is the Charles County Farm Bureau president.