Ballston Spa agricultural workshop offers tips on sale of development rights

The Saratogian

BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. >> Agriculture is an estimated $100 million industry in Saratoga County that supports 1,500 jobs.

But to keep farming viable, a more concerted effort is needed to protect the land farmers use against ongoing commercial and residential development.

About two dozen people turned out recently for a Farmland Conservation Options workshop to learn about the sale of development rights and whether are such programs are right for them.

“You give a gift to your community by conserving your land,” said Maria Trabka, Saratoga PLAN executive director. “It’s a way to keep your land, but get some equity out of it, too.

“Our lives depend upon farmland, especially here in Saratoga County where we have a growing population.”

PLAN (Preserving Land and Nature) is a non-profit Saratoga Springs-based land trust that helps property owners apply for state funding for the sale of development rights. To date, more than 3,450 acres of land has been conserved in Saratoga County and Trabka said about $30 million is expected to be available from the state in 2018 to continue such efforts across New York.

Grants are awarded competitively, based on the strength of each application.

Trabka, PLAN Conservation Director Mike Horn and Allison Hargrave of Saratoga County Planning Department outlined the rules, benefits and reasons for conservation easements during a presentation at Cornell Cooperative Extension offices in Ballston Spa.

“The primary purpose of agricultural conservation easements is to ensure that the land is used in a way that permits its ongoing use for farming and forestry,” Hargrave said.

The sale of development rights is a permanent, legal and binding agreement. The property can never be used for any type of commercial or residential development, only farm structures in designated areas.

People considering such steps must have their property appraised for its unrestricted value and agricultural value. The difference is the land’s development value.

For example, if land is worth $1.2 million and its ag value is $500,000, the development rights are worth $700,000.

Typically, the state provides 75 percent of this price, with the remainder matched by one of several local sources such as town or city government or private grants. Seven Saratoga County towns have completed or are in the process of completing farmland protection plans, and may apply directly to the state for land conservation funding. They are Charlton, Ballston, Malta, Stillwater, Milton, Moreau and Saratoga.

If no local match is available, the state may provide up to 87.5 percent of the total cost, with the land owner providing the remaining 12.5 percent.

Under the latter scenario, after transaction costs ($52,000), the land owners would get $658,000, which can be used however they want from farm improvements to a trip around the world.

The application and approval process takes about 18 months and more than 90 percent of applications are eventually approved, Trabka said.

In addition to having land appraised, it must also be tested for soil quality, one of the most heavily-weighted criteria state officials look at, as land must be able to support diverse agricultural interests. Dustin Lewis, of Saratoga County Soil & Water Conservation District, said his agency can help land owners with this process.

“New York State really wants any conserved farm to be a workable farm,” Horn said. “We think generations ahead, what might someone else want to do with this land?”

PLAN and county officials help people prepare applications for the sale of development rights. For information go to www.saratogaplan.org or call (518) 587-5554.

Ballston Resident Carl Zeilman Chosen as Chair of Majority Party in County

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – February 10, 2018 – The Saratoga County Republican Committee today unanimously elected Carl P. Zeilman to be its new County Chairman at a meeting of the full committee.

Zeilman, 41, a Town of Ballston resident, becomes the youngest County Chairman in the Party’s history. He succeeds Steve Bulger, who was recently appointed as a Regional Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Saratoga County Republican Chairman Carl Zeilman said, “It is an honor to lead one of the strongest Republican Committees in New York State. I will continue to energize the committee as our previous Chairman, Steve Bulger has done. Our committee is strong and well-positioned for success in 2018 and beyond.”

In 2017, Republicans in Saratoga County saw tremendous success at the polls, including:

•Retaining a strong 19 seat majority on the Board of Supervisors;
•Successfully defending all five incumbent Town Supervisor seats that saw challenges;
•Securing every countywide elected office including re-electing Sheriff Mike Zurlo, County Clerk Craig Hayner, and Coroner Susan Hayes Masa;
•Achieving wins that resulted in 20 of the 21 towns and cities across the county being under elected Republican leadership;
•Countywide, winning 322,724 votes on Election Day in 2017, compared with 65,520 votes for Democrats.

Additionally, for the first time in decades, republicans won the majority of the City Council seats in the city of Mechanicville.

In 2017, under former Chairman Bulger’s leadership, the county committee invested heavily into technology and efforts to elect Republicans across the county. It proved to be a productive decision, as more than 100 Republicans who ran for office were overwhelmingly elected to serve, a more than 95% success rate.

Chairman Zeilman will focus on continuing the proud leadership tradition of past Chairs including Jasper Nolan, John Herrick, and Steve Bulger. His priorities will include recruiting diverse candidates, fundraising, deploying technology and promoting the many business and quality of life attributes in the County.

Chairman Zeilman said, “Saratoga County continues to be the gem of the Capital Region. We have the lowest tax rates in the area, with nine Saratoga County municipalities having no local property tax. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates at 3.8 percent; and we have recently been ranked as New York’s healthiest by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. These are the results of Republican Supervisors with strong principles that look out for the residents of Saratoga County.”