Ag Land Preservation Program Facing Major Budget Cuts in Del. - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Ag Land Preservation Program Facing Major Budget Cuts in Del.

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DOVER, Del.- Preserving farms in Delaware faces a major hurdle due to possible cuts in next year's budget. Gov. Jack Markell's budget proposal gives the program just $2 million versus $10 million this year.

This year's $10 million preserved an additional 55 farms. The proposed $2 million would mean it would only be possible to preserve 15 to 20.

Robert Garey is a Kent County farmer and works with the Ag Land Preservation Program. He told lawmakers during a budget hearing Thursday an $8 million cut is a lot.

"We'd hate to see it cut that much," Garey said. "Because there are a lot of farms that could be preserved for strictly agriculture that won't be if the money isn't there."

He says preserve now while the buying is good.

"When the economy takes off, the land values go up. The possiblity of preserving that land is a lot more expensive than it is now."

Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee said this is the largest proposed cut in next year's budget for his department. He said the administration believes in the program, but this is easier to slice than other items.

"This is a program that doesn't effect jobs, doesn't effect operations," he said. "This is a place we can find $8 million to cut - which is reflective of the flatness of revenue."

Also Delaware gets money from the federal government for preservation though it does go up and down based on how much the state itself spends. Kee adds a low number one year does not affect the next year's number. Past funding has been has high as $10 million and as low as $3 million.

Garey hopes in the end the program will get more than $2 million this year.

"I feel confident we will be supported a little bit more than that," Garey said. "We'll preserve as much as we can with the money we can get."

Kee credits Joint Finance Committee members Thursday for wanting to better fund the program. But it's actually the Bond Bill Committee holding the initial purse strings on this. That committee meets later this month.

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