Friday, March 24, 2006

Imaginary tradeoffs...

A column by Doug Miller in the Flier this week questions the costs of trying to preserve Doughoregan Manor.

However, there has to be a point at which we say that the price of preservation outweighs the benefits. We've all enjoyed visits to historic places, let their ghosts wriggle inside us and imagined ourselves in another time. Those field trips do connect us to the past as nothing else can.

But while we should never lose sight of history, neither should we let our link to it override concrete needs of today and tomorrow.

In addition to the $24 million county officials propose to pay for the development rights to Doughoregan, the deal would also cost the county several thousand dollars each year in property taxes lost to a credit that comes with agricultural-preservation status.

How many new classrooms, how many road repairs, how many sewer-system renovations will we postpone to make this deal happen?

Good points. Too bad the tradeoffs he mentions aren't relevant.

Howard County and the state have specific pools of money -- with dedicated sources of funding -- set aside specifically for agricultural preservation and land acquisition. Classrooms, roads, sewers and such are paid for with bonds or other dedicated sources. We're not sacrificing these necessary items by paying more for the development rights at Doughoregan.

He is right that we would be losing "several thousand" in property taxes if Doughoregan enters our agricultural preservation program. If that's really a concern, however, letting the Carrolls develop the property would be the best solution for the county, as it would be a major tax revenue boost. But that's just silly. With a $1 billion budget, several thousand could fall out of the county's pocket and we wouldn't notice.

By spending so much on Doughoregan, we might be sacrificing the ability to preserve other parcels of land, but are there other parcels that are anywhere near as worthy as this? I would say no. Also worth considering is the fact that our agricultural preservation program hasn't had any takers since 2002. With apologies to Syd Thrift, it's almost like we're offering landowners confederate money at this point.

Finally, Miller has valid concerns about the lack of public access to the site, especially given it's historical value to the county -- and nation for that matter. But do we require other owners of preserved land to invite the neighbors over for a tour of the house and grounds? I'm pretty sure the answer is no. So, why should we treat the Carrolls any different? After all, even though Doughoregan might be the catalyst for changes to the county's agricultural preservation program, the changes will apply to all landowners equally.

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