Among many budgetary struggles in Maryland’s General Assembly this year was whether our representatives would fully fund Program Open Space, or if dollars from the dedicated Real Estate Transfer Tax would end up in the general fund. Despite a difficult struggle, lawmakers opted to fund much of the dedicated land conservation programs, while shelving other environmental programs for future consideration. The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) received support from dedicated funds, although funds for the celebrated Rural Legacy Program were drastically cut from the Governor’s budget.
Since 1969, everyone in Maryland who purchased property has paid a real estate transfer tax. The legislation that created Program Open Space dedicated this revenue source to protect open space which would in turn improve recreational opportunities and preserve working farms, forests and natural habitat. It is fitting that as farms convert to development, the transfer tax should go to preserving other areas, thus ensuring protection of our natural resources and farmland for future generations. Nature based recreation such as hunting, birding, ecotourism, and boating are vital economic drivers for Maryland and benefit directly from Program Open Space by also providing public access.
Marylanders understand that there are areas that should be protected from development so that future generations will have productive soils for farming and healthy waterways for fishing and swimming. These resources are an investment in the future, and the transfer tax was intended to help land conservation keep pace with development. Some lawmakers have argued that the state can’t afford to be buying parkland when so many other things are being cut to balance the budget. But we counter that this is the ideal time to be preserving, when land prices have softened as a result of the recession and more landowners are interested in selling land or conservation easements.
There is some good news for our farmers. The MALPF funds were not cut from the Governor’s budget, although they remain historically low. These funds were unavailable in FY11 due to so few transfers, and the voluntary program was unavailable for farmers. This is a tremendously popular program for landowners, and while there is an opportunity to protect the most important farmland for less money, there is never enough funding for the number of landowners who wish to participate.
Program Open Space is vital to preserving the very resources that drive our economy; farming, tourism, recreation, fishing and forestry. Program Open Space is a model copied around the country by many states and helps ensure that the most important lands are not lost to development forever. We are grateful to our legislators for funding vital land conservation programs, but perhaps it’s time to ensure that the real estate transfer funds remain dedicated to the programs they were intended.
(The writer is the executive director of the Lower Shore Land Trust.)
Relay For Life Invitation
I am writing to invite all readers to the biggest party of the year. This party takes place on Friday May 6 at Frontier Town Campground. The title of this party is Relay For Life of North Worcester County. It is sponsored by your American Cancer Society. As the co-chair of this event, I am inviting everyone to attend. I am sure many of you have seen and heard commercials letting you know that ACS is the sponsor of birthdays, so we want to invite you to the biggest birthday party of the year.
Like all good parties, there will be lots of food, entertainment, games, competitions and activities and music. We will celebrate all cancer survivors, our most honored guests, at our opening ceremonies which begin at 6 p.m. They will begin our Relay with the survivors lap at 6:30 p.m. We will honor and remember those who have battled cancer with a remembrance ceremony at 8:30 and we will encourage all party goers to find ways to fight back.
Our Relay/party is a family friendly event and we invite one and all to come and have fun while participating in a personal way in finding a cure for this disease and the suffering it causes so many. I promise you, you will have lots of fun, laugh a little, cry a little and have an experience you will never forget. For more information about forming a team, joining a team, attending the survivor reception, or becoming an event sponsor please contact me at 410-430-8131.
I am saving you a seat at the party of the year. You don’t want to miss it.
(The writer is the co-chair of Relay For Life of North Worcester.)
Wind Study Warranted
The Dispatch’s coverage of the Administration’s offshore wind generation initiative gave its readers comprehensive reporting and analysis of this complex legislation.
This complex legislation warranted such coverage.
The measure’s key provision required the state’s investor-owned utilities to sign contracts with government-selected wind generation firms. If offshore wind power is a reliable energy source, many wondered why the government would then need to interject itself into a contract between private entities. That was one basic question.
There were more questions then answers with this proposal since the day it was announced. Its impact on Ocean City and its quality of life is serious and cannot be overlooked by the area’s state representatives. Determining the proper approach — if there is to be one to wind power off of our coast — should not be a rush to judgment. It is critical this is done properly, if it is done at all.
Estimates of monthly surcharges that utility customers would pay to finance the construction of this project varied wildly. For energy-intensive businesses, monthly costs would have been untold thousands of dollars per month. There didn’t appear to be a firewall between firms with political connections and the government agencies that decide who gets the contracts, leaving the legislation open to charges of crony capitalism. And then there was the question of what would happen with other alternative energy providers suddenly finding themselves at a competitive disadvantage due to government intrusion in the marketplace.
The State Senate’s Finance Committee correctly decided to study the issue rather than attempt to cobble together yet another last-minute compromise. At the very moment legislators were considering whether to revive the floundering legislation late in the legislative session, President Obama was at a Pennsylvania wind turbine plant discussing the nation’s energy policy.
"This is an approach that says we’re not going to pick one energy source over another," the President said. "What we do is we set a target, an achievable goal, and then we give industry the flexibility to achieve it. We say to the utilities, you’ve got to get this much energy from renewable sources, and then wind is competing with solar is competing with natural gas."
As the Administration and the General Assembly study this issue over the summer, we suggest incorporating some of these guiding principles, so Maryland can have a realistic chance at developing renewable energy. We applaud your coverage of this important issue.
Kimberly McCoy Burns
(The writer is the president of Maryland Business for Responsive Government.)
On behalf of the board, staff and guests of Diakonia, I wish to offer my sincere thanks to many in our community for their support and very generous contributions to Diakonia’s Help and Hope Breakfast fundraiser that was held at the Carousel on March 30.
I also want to express my appreciation to the following individuals who were table captains for our event: Reese Cropper, Mary Eastman, Michael James, Susan Jones, Stacy Schaffer, Brooks and Chris Trimper and Tom Wilson. It truly was due to the efforts that our fundraiser was so successful. Finally, I would like to offer a very big “thank you” to the Carousel Hotel for hosting and complimenting the event.
While the real measure of our fundraising success will not be known until after the many pledge cards that were taken away from the breakfast are returned and the financial results are tallied, we are very pleased to say that to date we have received approximately $20,000 in donations and pledges.
Diakonia currently provides comprehensive emergency and traditional shelter, food, health care referrals and job placement services for the most vulnerable men, women and families in our community. During the past year, Diakonia has experienced a steep demand over the past years for services. Responding to this demand has resulted in our operating funds being drawn done to unprecedented low levels. Instituting Diakonia’s Help and Hope Giving Society is one way that we are trying to restore our funding levels.
We are very grateful for this outpouring of support from the community and with sincere appreciation we say “thank you”.
Of course, we always welcome more involvement from the community and have many volunteer opportunities available. If anyone would like to become involved or would like to offer a contribution, they should call Diakonia at 410-213-0923.
(The writer is the president of the Diakonia Board of Directors.)