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Guests of note at the Lebanon County Conservation District’s 2022 legislative roundtable June 3 included County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, state Rep. Russ Diamond, and Dan Bost of state Senator Chris Gebhard’s office.
The roundtable consisted of presentations on the LCCD’s activities over the last year by employees, followed by policy recommendations from LCCD board treasurer Bob Arnold and PACD executive director Brenda Shambaugh, as well as open discussion amongst attendees.
Shambaugh requested that policymakers consider increasing funding for the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts to a total of $6.748 million in the 2022-23 budget. Arnold noted that the PACD’s funding has not increased since the 2004-05 fiscal year.
Shambaugh noted that while many of the PACD’s 66 local districts’ projects get grant funding, the largest financial difficulty for the organization is staffing.
The PACD surveyed local districts and found that the 61 districts that responded have had a 20 percent reduction in staff over the last two years solely due to employees finding higher salaried jobs, Shambaugh said.
Arnold presented a resolution unanimously approved by the LCCD board supporting assessing agricultural land mitigation fees.
The program has been in place for 30 years and preserved 19,844.86 acres, with a total of $35,084,402.92 having been spent on easements ($21,981,786.23 of which came from donations).
Agricultural Preservation specialist Craig Zemitis noted that the county received $467,599 in funding for agricultural preservation in 2022.
There are currently 2,667 acres on 28 farms on a waiting list to be preserved, some of which have been there for over a decade. Preservation for this land would cost a total of $6.8 million, Arnold said.
Arnold stressed the importance of agricultural land preservation, noting that less farmland in the U.S. could mean more expensive and less well-regulated food available down the line. He also said that farmland preservation encourages soil and water conservation, helps to keep taxes lower, and maintains quality of life for residents.
He also said that while 3,000 acres of Lebanon County farmland has been preserved over the last decade, 9,000 acres were developed. With Lebanon being the second fastest-growing county in Pennsylvania, Arnold said, agricultural preservation is especially vital.
The resolution urges officials to consider putting in place agricultural mitigation fees for permanent loss of farmland. These fees would be put toward agricultural preservation. Arnold noted that California, Vermont, and New York have similar programs or ordinances that have been upheld by state supreme courts.
“I would be more than willing to work with you on this because I see the end result here,” said Diamond, a member of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. He commented that the issue has been one that has concerned him for a long time.
Bost expressed his willingness to work with the LCCD as well, though he mentioned the complexity that such legislation would require.
The roundtable also provided details on the LCCD’s ongoing programs.
Administrative assistant Taylor Wade discussed this year’s tire collection efforts, which amassed a total of 303 sets of tires.
District manager Katie Doster noted that this year’s tree sale collected a total of $28,000 to go toward education events.
Community Clean Water Action Plan coordinator MaryKate Gallagher overviewed the efforts of the six teams of the Countywide Action Plan, a program that began in 2020.
Watershed specialist Stephanie Harmon reviewed the 2022 Envirothon, which saw participation from 11 elementary schools, five middle schools, and five high schools. She also discussed dirt, gravel, and a low-volume road maintenance project with Bethel Township planned for 2022.
For more information on any of the LCCD’s ongoing projects, visit their website.
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