The first bill Gov. Leavitt signed in the current session of the Utah Legislature was the resolution declaring 1998 the "Year of the Farmer." During this year of celebration, we not only want to pay tribute to the excellent tradition of agriculture in the state, but we want to achieve certain goals as well . . . goals that will help bolster and sustain the agricultural industry in Utah. When a state's agriculture does well, the entire state excels.
The way to keep agriculture healthy and sustainable is to keep farming on the most fertile soils (only 2 percent of the total land area of the state). These prime farmlands are also the ones most vulnerable to development pressures. However, putting land under a conservation easement (purchasing the development rights from landowners) guarantees that the land will continue in agriculture permanently. The farmer receives cash for selling the development rights and maintains ownership and all other rights of the land. But this program takes money, and most states raise it through a combination of public bonding or taxing, as well as private donations.A bill in the Utah House, sponsored by Rep. Evan Olsen of Cache County (HB 50, Local Option Sales Tax), would help provide funding to farmers who desire to preserve their lands in agriculture. This bill gives counties the option (upon voter approval) to impose up to a 1/8 percent sales and use tax. Revenues would be used to preserve certain farmlands within the county. An incredible amount of good could come for individual communities from this funding source.
I urge you to immediately contact your representatives in the Legislature (the bill is scheduled to be heard any time now).
Passage of this bill will benefit more than just agriculture. It will help keep Utah an enjoyable, beautiful, healthy and happy place to live and raise our families.
Education specialist, Utah Association
of Conservation Districts