Senate Approves Narrowed Open Space Incentive Program

The Maryland Senate has given its approval to a bill that would provide funding to jurisdictions with the largest areas of open space attributed to State forests, parks and wildlife management areas. As introduced, SB 134 would have benefited all counties, but Baltimore City. Due to the fiscal note, the bill has been amended to apply to only two jurisdictions.

As reported by,

SB 134 originally would have cost Maryland $15 million beginning in fiscal year 2017, with a proposed $2.5 million being paid for by the Forest and Park Reserve Fund. But with amendments that limit the scope of the program so only two counties currently qualify, it would cost only $3.5 million, according to Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Edward Kasemeyer, D-Baltimore and Howard.

“We think Allegany and Garrett have some significant issues and need our help,” Kasemeyer said.

MACo supported SB 134 as introduced as it would serve as an incentive to counties to preserve their State forests, parks and wildlife management areas. These areas are exempt from the local property tax, although counties are still required to provide services from which these lands benefit, including law enforcement, emergency management services, stormwater infrastructure, and roadways.

A program has existed to provide some level of payment to counties with State forest and park lands through revenues derived from these areas, including net revenues from concession operations, but these payments have been reduced significantly over the past several years to balance the State’s budget. As introduced, the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2015 again reduced these payments by a projected $2.5 million. Senate budget actions would restore these payments in FY 2017 contingent upon the passage of this bill. If SB 134 passes, Allegany and Garrett Counties would receive funding through this new program, and other counties would continue to receive payments through the existing program.

Currently, if the state government owns 10% of forest land in a county, the county receives 25% of the revenues generated on that land, including tourism, concession stands, campsites and even timber harvesting.

“I see this as a fairness issue, one that really helps everyone out…One that really helps out some of these rural areas in the state,” said Bill Sponsor Sen. George Edwards, R-Allegany and Garrett.

According to Edwards, over the last four years, counties have not been receiving payments from revenue generated by concessions.

Now as amended, the bill allows counties to choose to receive 25% of park revenues, or apply to receive $250,000 for 10,000 acres of state land.

This is a “phase-in” incentive and will only apply to counties with a minimum of 60,000 acres. Only Allegany and Garrett counties currently qualify.