By Margaret Graves and Frank Penn
Fayette County's rural landscape is a sustainable economic engine. The economic impacts of agriculture are reinforced by the fact that the costs to provide services to our agricultural area are less than the taxes that it pays.
Growth areas require a significant amount of infrastructure, schools, sewers, sidewalks, streetlights, etc. The taxes paid by growth areas are not adequate to meet the expenses generated by the new infrastructure and other public services.
A study conducted by the American Farmland Trust in 1999 showed that the growth areas in Fayette County received $1.64 in services for every dollar paid in taxes. The agricultural areas only received 93 cents in services for every dollar paid in taxes.
During the latter part of the 20th century, Lexington adopted a number of progressive measures to preserve its productive rural landscape and agrarian identity. In 1958, the Lexington and Fayette County adopted an Urban Services Boundary in order to manage future growth. Momentum to curb non-agricultural development in the Rural Service Area continued to build; and in 1964, a 10-acre minimum was established "for lots utilizing septic tanks for waste disposal."
In 1973, Lexington and Fayette County merged to become the Urban County Government. While this was not a direct action to preserve farmland, it built on the foundation set by the Urban Services Boundary.
Despite the intent of the 10-acre minimum, between 1990 and 1997, 4,700 acres of productive rural farmland was lost to 10-acre lot development throughout the Rural Service Area. During the years between 1992 and 1997, over 11,000 acres, 8 percent, of Fayette County's farmland was developed for urban use.
The erosion of our productive farmland led to the adoption of the Purchase of Development Rights Ordinance by the Urban County Council in 2000. PDR is in its 10th successful year of operation and is at 24,244 acres, 48.5 percent of its goal of 50,000 acres by 2020. By conserving farmland, the PDR program is a tool to preserve the "factory floor" for the industries — agriculture, tourism and equine that provide incomparable economic impacts and define Fayette County to the rest of the world.
Over the last half century, the local government has taken a leadership role in protecting the most important asset in its portfolio-productive farmland. Now, it is time for the Urban County Council to lead again, to continue the funding of the PDR program.
PDR has been successfully implemented for the long term economic and environmental sustainability of Fayette County. The Urban County Council should approve the PDR FY11 budget request. PDR has already received a $2 million grant to match with the $2 million in the FY11 mayor's proposed budget. This is an investment in our future and for future generations of our citizens. The PDR plan is nearly halfway to its goal. Now is not the time to put it on the shelf.
Margaret Graves and Frank Penn are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the Fayette County Rural Land Management Board.