Proposed land transfer tax dominates Polk commissioner candidate forum

Published 3:31 pm Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Residents also asked candidates questions, most of which centered around revenue from the county&39;s proposed property transfer tax. Many of the questions related to how candidates would use that funding and more specifically, how candidates could ensure the money remains dedicated for farmland preservation permanently.

Commissioner candidates Ray Gasperson (D), Ren´e McDermott (D), David Moore (R), Ted Owens (R), Tom Pack (R) and Cindy Walker (D) answered questions in front of a crowd of about 50 Hunting Country residents. All candidates pledged to ensure revenue from the land transfer tax, if approved by the referendum this November, is used to preserve farmland.

One resident asked candidates if there is anything the board can do to ensure that the land transfer tax revenue be used for farmland preservation forever. Incumbent Owens said that the board could ask for a legislative bill where the funding would be permanently earmarked for farmland preservation. The resident asked if the candidates would pursue that bill and all candidates indicated that they would.

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Incumbent Pack said he supports the land transfer tax being used for farmland preservation mainly because farming is part of Polk County&squo;s heritage.

&dquo;If citizens vote it in, that&squo;s where it should go and where it should stay,&dquo; Pack said.

Gasperson said preserving farmland is one of his main reasons for running for county commissioner. He said he hates to call it a tax because it will do so much for generations to come.

Moore said the money generated from the land transfer tax needs to be set aside and used for what it was voted for and the money must remain in the special fund.

The current board of commissioners recently agreed to establish a special fund to hold land transfer tax monies if the referendum passes. The special fund will be set aside specifically for farmland preservation, which will mean the county will purchase development rights from farmers willing to participate so farms can&squo;t be sold for development. Any money leftover at the end of the year will be rolled back into the special fund instead of to the county&squo;s general fund.

Owens said he does support the land transfer tax being used for farmland preservation and guarantees the money will be put in the special fund. Owens also said the current board this fiscal year budgeted $250,000 for farmland preservation.

McDermott said she also supports the tax going to farmland preservation and reviewed her work with the Pacolet Area Conservancy. McDermott said agriculture is one of Polk County&squo;s top industries and also reviewed statistics on how farmland requires less money for county services than developments. McDermott also said farmland is better for groundwater recharge and keeps locally grown food available.

Walker said she and all candidates have pledged their support and she likes to call the tax the &dquo;price of paradise.&dquo;

&dquo;It&squo;s our Pay Per View so we can look at all our farms,&dquo; Walker said.

Other questions during the forum last week related to a county-wide water system, zoning for the unzoned areas of the county, local erosion control measures, county-wide law enforcement, a vision of keeping the county rural, affordable housing and oversight of the county sheriff&squo;s office.

Look for more coverage on candidates&squo; answers as well as their biographies later in the Bulletin.