Lehigh County State Elected Officials,
I am writing to express my concern about the proposed budget in HB 218 and its impact on staffing levels at the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Farmland Preservation, which administers Pennsylvania’s farmland preservation program.
I trust you know how successful this program has been and how much the public supports it. Numerous surveys over the years have demonstrated broad support for farmland preservation, especially in regions like the Lehigh Valley where much farmland is being lost to development.
Under this program, Lehigh County has put together one of the top programs in the state, having preserved 281 farms over 22,000 acres. Statewide, more than 533,000 acres of farmland on 5,136 farms have been preserved, making Pennsylvania the nation’s leader in farmland preservation..
According to the Pennsylvania Farmland Preservation Association, an organization of all the county farmland preservation directors, HB 218 will likely cause layoffs to a Bureau staff that is already a barebones operation. The Association believes further staff reductions would render the Bureau unable to effectively administer the state’s preservation program.
Bureau staff provide essential services to the county. These include coordination of all the preservation deals and oversight of the stewardship of preserved farms, including guidance in legal defense and enforcement of preservation mechanisms. The bureau is invaluable to the county programs.
To be clear, I am not arguing for an increase in funding to the program, but rather for sustaining the current levels. I understand we’re in a time where relative to the state budget many programs are asked to do more with less. But further staff cuts will jeopardize the effectiveness of this highly popular and very successful program. Since the program intakes new farms each year the bureau already is doing more with less by default.
State staff cuts today would come at a time when local municipalities in Lehigh County are getting ready to join the program with their own money. Under our newly created county-municipal match program, several townships, including Lower Macungie Township, are planning to contribute their own funds for preservation. In short, when we were asked to do more with less Lehigh County has enacted a program that does just that. As a region we’ve stepped to the plate.
Lastly, I want to reiterate that Farmland preservation is not a special interest. It has been demonstrated time and again that it has broad community support across the entire spectrum of voters. Lehigh Valley residents understand that investments in farmland today pays dividends tomorrow. Accordingly, I appreciate your attention to this matter.
I’d be happy to discuss this issue with you. Specifically if you are unfamiliar with Lehigh County’s new municipal match program and how it has encouraged local municipalities to step up to the plate and contribute funds to preservation efforts and why consistent staffing at the farmland bureau is crucial to the programs continued success.
Ron W. Beitler
Vice President – Lower Macungie Township Board of Commissioners
Treasurer – Lehigh County Agricultural Land Preservation Board
Rep. Gary Day
Rep. Ryan Mackenzie
Rep. Justin Simmons
Rep. Mike Schlossberg
Sen. Pat Browne
Sen. Lisa Bosola
Gov. Tom Wolf