Wednesday, March 8, 2000 at 12:32 PM
Despite a lack of organized opposition, Ohio's first effort to fund farmland preservation at the county level was defeated yesterday by voters in Medina County. Supporters of the measure say poor ballot language, a short campaign, and lack of strong political support may have been the cause. But experts believe this won't be the last effort to establish funding for farmland preservation in the Buckeye State. 90.3's/INFOHIO's Karen Schaefer has this report.
Karen Schaefer- For the last ten years, Medina has been one of the fastest-growing counties in the state. Ironically, it's losing the rural character that is so much of its attraction for city dwellers looking to escape to country life. Current estimates are the county is losing as much as 40 acres of rural and farmland a week to new developments. That's why supporters like Michael Kovack had such high hopes for a farmland preservation sales tax issue they say would help direct growth and stabilize rising property taxes.
Michael Kovack- I believe this was the only shot. I believe the possibility of preserving land in Medina County is now dead.
KS- Kovack is the county auditor. He believes the levy failed for a number of reasons.
MK- Going into this levy, it was handicapped from the start. The birth of this levy, there was a lot of politics surrounding it. I mean, take being given two months to put - not even to put the campaign together, we had two months for the whole campaign and we put it together on the fly. And again, I would have been in favor of a property tax rather than a sales tax.
KS- Kovack says sales tax levies have traditionally been given a hard time by Medina County voters. The last such issue to falter was a levy for improving the county's park system. While both issues failed by similar margins, it's not yet clear whether the farmland tax received more support from urban or rural districts. Kovack admits he spent more time talking to urban voters about the advantages of the levy than he did farmers and township residents. He says most farmers he talked to were in favor of the levy. But Litchfield Township resident John Metter believes the rapid development of rural land for new housing is inevitable.
John Metter- The farmers are not going to continue farming, no matter what happens. I have a friend in California that signed up for land preservation. He's a farmer. The difference is they got out there is there was a deadline on the preservation...He can't farm anymore. He's got to tough it out five more years and then he can sell it. He got some money, but the encroachment of the city around him killed him. And that's what going to happen here.
KS- County Commissioners say they won't be putting the farmland issue back on the ballot. But supporters say it's not too late for other counties. Chris Knopf is the Ohio Field Office Director for the Trust for Public Lands, a national organization dedicated to protecting land for future public use.
Chris Knopf- This was the first bite of the apple at farmland preservation in Ohio at the county level and it clearly won't be the last bite at the apple. I know that other counties have looked closely at this effort, but this should not be a discouraging signal, by any means. There is clearly a movement throughout the state to preserve farmland. And obviously the Governor's taken this issue on as being serious. And now it's for other counties to step up to the plate and have these measures passed in other counties.
KS- Last year Ohio passed it first statewide farmland preservation legislation. This fall, voters will decide whether to fund the issue at the state level. But other counties around Cleveland and elsewhere in the state are also considering local funding for farmland preservation. Ohio voters may well see similar measures to protect farmland in future elections. For INFOHIO, I'm Karen Schaefer in Medina County.