County’s P&Z to Hear Results of Water Listening Sessions, Farmland Committee Update
By Brandi Makuski
Officials from the Portage Co. Planning and Zoning Committee on Tuesday meet to discuss the findings of recent groundwater listening sessions, as well as an initial report on a new farmland preservation committee.
County Executive Patty Dreier compiled her findings following a series of nine groundwater listening sessions held between September of 2014 and January of 2015. In a memo to the committee, Dreier said the goal of the sessions was to, “build a common understanding…facilitate development of a share vision related to groundwater stewardship that balances interests and addresses issues today while ensuring healthy water resources for years to come and for everyone”.
Several county officials were also on hand during the sessions to test water samples from area residents, and to help collect the input and compile data on local groundwater resources. The findings, already available on the county’s website, will be presented to the committee ahead of the March County Board meeting, when it’s expected the report will be approved and become part of the formal county record.
The committee will also get a glimpse of new efforts to preserve farmland throughout the county. In January county leaders created the first county-wide Farmland Preservation Ad Hoc Steering Committee, which is designed to eventually help area farmers earn tax breaks from the state.
The idea, according to Portage Co. Planning and Zoning Director Jeff Schuler, is to encourage farmers to continue farming. But it’s not as simple as it sounds, he said.
“The bottom line is, state statute says every county needs to have a farmland land preservation committee,” Schuler said, adding his office reached out to farmers from large-scale operations like Del Monte, farmers with smaller properties and organic farmers. A representative from Central Rivers Farmshed has a seat on the committee, as do several members of the Portage Co. Board of Supervisors who represent rural areas. Ag officials need to define agriculture within the county, he said, which means defining who owns the farm land and how much money it brings the county.
“They are going through a lot of the legwork for the plan, developing the initial plan, which will then go to the Planning and Zoning Committee for approval,” Schuler said of the committee.
The committee met for the first time on Jan. 31 and needs to complete its plan by September.
Associate Planner Steve Kuntz said once the plan was complete and accepted by the state, farmers within certain areas, and under specific zoning designations, of the county would be eligible for a tax credit of $7.50 per acre.
Schuler said the county has been given a lot of leeway to define what parcels of land would be best designated as farmland- keeping those parcels safe from development.
“The (state) statue in part says we have to identify those areas in the county where we would designate as being really good for farmland, and if zoned properly those landowners would be eligible for tax credits,” he said. “So it’s really a state program where the state says, ‘You tell us where, in your county, people should be eligible for a tax break on their agricultural property’.”
“Agriculture in the state has always been really, really important. The state said if it’s that important we need to find where the agricultural lands are and try to preserve them,” Schuler said.
The Planning and Zoning Committee meets at 5 PM on Tuesday, Feb. 24 in Conference Rooms 1 and 2 of the County Annex Building, 1462 Strongs Avenue. The public is welcome to attend.