MILTON, Del.- On a seasonally warm Monday morning, third generation farmer Jeff Wells walked through his fields. He said when his grandfather worked these fields - currently the location of Carlton Wells & Sons Inc. - there was much less encroachment county-wide from developments. Wells said he wanted to make sure more land stays agricultural like this.
"They're going to end up with one big city in Sussex County if they keep going," he said. "There's no doubt."
Well's opinion is one that has been echoed by GOP leaders, such as Dave Wilson from the Bridgeville area. In a GOP address, Wilson said that there has been a "steady assault" to limit the amount of money going toward farmland preservation.
"That funding has been under steady assault," Wilson said in the video. "For the fifth year in a row, the Markell Administration has suggested taking most of the program's money for other uses."
The debate dates back to a law passed in 2005, in which the state assembly earmarked $10 million from the Realty Transfer Tax, to go into the Farmland Preservation Fund. However, over time far less of this money has been used for farmland preservation:
FY 2013: $2 million suggested by governor; $10 million allocated by General Assembly
FY 2014: $2 million suggested by governor; $6 million allocated by General Assembly
FY 2015: $2 million suggested by governor; $2 million allocated by General Assembly
FY 2016: $3 million suggested by governor
Wilson said that anything less than the full $10 million, mandated by the 2005 law, is not enough.
"My question is 50 years from now will the state of Delaware still have young farmers interested in agriculture," Wilson asked. "Will it be our number one industry? Or will it be fourth or fifth."
Markell agreed that the program was important, boasting that under his administration, 304 farms totaling 27,700 acres have been preserved. However, he said fiscal constraints made any more funding difficult.
"He would like to do more," said Kelly Bachman - the Press Secretary for Markell. "But as members of the General Assembly are aware, this is an extremely difficult year for Delaware's budget."
Wilson said that the major problem with the 2005 bill was that it was not made into a constitutional amendment. For that reason, he said the state hasn't been bound to the $10 million allocation. In order to make a constitutional amendment, two consecutive General Assemblies need to vote on the same bill.
Wilson said he wants to bring that bill on to the table.
"It's time for the General Assembly to take action," he said.