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County commissioners let deadline for farm plan pass

| Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2002

The Armstrong County commissioners Tuesday decided to miss the Dec. 19 deadline for the county's Farmland Preservation Plan, compiled by the local Agricultural Lands Preservation Board (ALPB), to be submitted to the state Department of Agriculture.

They fear the plan means more state mandates costing county taxpayers more money.

Commissioners Jim Scahill and Homer Crytzer said yesterday they have questions about the plan that can't be addressed in the few days leading up to the deadline.

The plan would give accepted applicants the legal right to maintain their property for agricultural purposes into the future.

In addition to questions commisioners have, the ALPB, which submitted the plan's initial draft to the state in March, received the document back in November with requests for several changes.

"We need to discuss the plan with the board without a lot of pressure," said Scahill, who added that the state actually suggested the plan be resubmitted for approval by the deadline on the promise that any discrepancies could be worked out through amendments afterward.

"That's no way to run a railroad; we feel we'd rather take the extra time necessary, and everybody's agreed that it's better to have the best plan we can have going in."

By delaying the plan's implementation, Crytzer said, the commissioners are preserving their legal right to stay involved with ALPB in regard to any amendments made to the plan before it is finalized.

"In my opinion, if the plan were approved now, that would take us out of the game altogether," said Crytzer.

"We have questions about our involvement that we'll get ironed out at our meeting with the preservation board."

One of the main issues, according to Crytzer, is that the plan currently states the Armstrong County Planning Department (ACPD) will administer the program entirely.

"I'm not sure after speaking with Rich Palilla (ACPD executive director) that the planning department can handle the administration of this program as it is written," said Crytzer.

According to Scahill, commissioners talked to ALPB about processing all of their planning information through ACPD. That was not meant to say, however, that any plan involving ALPB would therefore be handled within the County Comprehensive Plan, which planning officials are currently applying to all 47 county municipalities.

"We're going through the first ever comprehensive plan, and there was an assumption made that we would use the planning (office) to process whatever the (ALPB) had to do with their meeting dates and things like that," said Scahill. "We didn't say use the (County Comprehensive Plan), we said use the planning office."

If the county does in fact require the use of the planning department for handling aspects of the plan, Crytzer said, the county might have to look at hiring another employee to do it.

"Our solicitor's already overworked. Is the board going to have to hire a solicitor to do all the work necessary for the plan?" asked Crytzer. "The answer is probably yes because it's not written in the plan, and there haven't been any funds provided."

Crytzer also questions the statement in the plan that the county will provide insurance for the members of the board.

"What type of insurance, it's not spelled out," said Crytzer. "We're gonna work these things out and we will be involved in the program if not this coming year, then next year."

Sandra Robinson, administrative officer for the state Department of Agriculture, saud the latter is more likely.

"There will be a meeting in February, and they can present the revised plan at that time. If approved, the funding for the plan will be made available for 2004," said Robinson.

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