Lexington’s city council is working to make changes in the government’s Purchase of Development Rights program. An audit report on the land preservation program got a review this week at city hall.
The audit review ran from January of 2014 through December of 2017. Among other things it found the PDR program is sufficiently managed and it properly tracks available funding for future purchases. But, Council Member Kevin Stinnett said Tuesday having Rural Land Management Board members who are also recipients of PDR support raises concerns. “That’s the biggest complaint is people are on the board who have received money from taxpayers and they’re voting on the laws and also regulating what happens on those PDR farms,” said Stinnett.
Lexington Planning, Preservation, and Development Commissioner Derek Paulsen said first-hand experience also carries an impact.
“That’s really one of the things that the board members felt is an important part of recruiting farms into this program is being able to say, ‘Hey, we’ve been in here. This is how it’s worked. I’m not just trying to sell you on something I wouldn’t do myself. We’ve done it,” explained Paulsen.
The recommended changes include a prohibition on a board member submitting an application for PDR funding while a member or within one year of serving on the board.
PDR uses local and federal tax dollars to pay rural property owners who pledge not to develop their farms. General fund appropriations have been budgeted for years to support the program.
Some council members like Jennifer Mossotti would like to see a permanent designated stream of funding. But, there’s a risk with that approach, because Mossotti says it would need to go on the ballot as a referendum question. “The whole purpose of a referendum would be for funding of the program, but depending on how it could be worded, it could also get rid of the program. And that’s certainly something we don’t want to happen,” said Mossotti.
The council committee took no action on the audit recommendations.