DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Land Trust Reimbursement Grant Program
[33 Pa.B. 39]
The Department of Agriculture (Department) amends the procedures and standards for the Land Trust Reimbursement Grant Program (Program).
These procedures and standards were originally published at 29 Pa.B. 6342 (December 18, 1999). The underlying statutory authority for the Program has changed since this original publication date. The original authority for the Program was section 1716 of The Administrative Code of 1929 (71 P. S. § 456). That provision was repealed by the act of May 30, 2001 (P. L. 103, No. 14) (3 P. S. § 914.5), which effected a continuation of the Program under the Agricultural Area Security Law (act) (3 P. S. §§ 901--915), rather than The Administrative Code of 1929.
The Program is funded by a $500,000 allocation from the State Agricultural Land Preservation Board (State Board). The Program allows for the awarding of reimbursement grants to qualified land trusts. A grant can reimburse a qualified land trust up to $5,000 of the expenses it incurs in acquiring an ''agricultural conservation easement,'' as that term is defined in the act. These expenses include appraisal costs, legal services, title searches, document preparation, title insurance, closing fees and survey costs.
Since the Program has been in effect, a number of qualified land trusts have suggested the standards and procedures be revised to allow for the reimbursement of expenses relating to the acquisition of a broader range of agricultural conservation easements. This would include agricultural conservation easements that, although limiting the subject land to agricultural production in perpetuity, would not qualify for purchase by the Commonwealth, an eligible county or a local government unit (or some combination thereof) under the act and its attendant regulations in 7 Pa. Code Chapter 138e (relating to agricultural conservation easement purchase program). The Department heeded these suggestions and revised the minimum criteria for participation in the Program by notice published at 30 Pa.B. 5546 (October 28, 2000). The Department has since determined it would serve the purposes of the Program to further broaden the criteria for participation. This notice will allow counties with agricultural conservation easement purchase programs approved by the State Board (eligible counties) to coordinate with qualified land trusts in their farmland preservation activities and facilitate the acquisition of agricultural conservation easements on tracts of land which--although not by themselves ''economically viable for agricultural production'' under the strict definition of that term--help create larger blocks of contiguous preserved farmland or otherwise further the eligible county's farmland preservation effort.
The Department believes the revision: (1) is consistent with the statutory authority for the Program; (2) is consistent with the definition of ''agricultural conservation easement'' in section 3 of the act (3 P. S. § 903); and (3) is expected to increase the rate at which Program funds will be spent to reimburse these qualified land trusts for a portion of their costs in acquiring agricultural conservation easements.
The statutory language establishing the Program is essentially self-executing. The following restates the statutory procedures and standards published at 29 Pa.B. 6342, with the exception of Paragraph (8) (State Board Review), which has been revised to reflect the current statutory authority for the Program and to delete the referenced minimum-acreage requirements. It also provides references to sources of further information or assistance.
1. Eligible Land Trust. To be eligible to register with the State Board and to receive reimbursement grants under the Program, a land trust must be a tax-exempt institution under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C.A. § 501(c)(3)) and include the acquisition of agricultural conservation easements or other conservation easements in its stated purpose.
2. Registration of Eligible Land Trust. An eligible land trust seeking reimbursement grants under the Program shall register with the State Board. Registration shall be accomplished by delivering a registration letter to Department of Agriculture, Attn: Bureau of Farmland Protection, 2301 North Cameron Street, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9408.
3. Contents of Registration Letter. A registration letter shall:
a. Set forth a request that the eligible land trust be registered with the State Board for the purpose of receiving reimbursement grants under the Program.
b. Be signed by the president or other appropriate officer of the land trust.
c. Have enclosed a true and correct copy of the section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt certification issued to the land trust by the Internal Revenue Service and other documentation necessary to demonstrate the section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status of the land trust and that the land trust has the acquisition of agricultural conservation easements or other conservation easements as its stated purpose.
d. If the land trust seeks to be registered to receive reimbursement grants with respect to agricultural conservation easements it acquires in a county that is an ''eligible county'' under section 3 of the act (an ''eligible county'' is a county whose agricultural conservation easement purchase program has been approved by the State Board), have enclosed a letter from either the Director or the Chairperson of the Agricultural Land Preservation Board in that eligible county verifying that the land trust coordinates its farmland preservation activities with the farmland preservation activities of the county.
4. Acknowledgement of Registration. The Department will promptly provide an eligible land trust that delivers a complete registration letter as described in the preceding paragraph with written confirmation that the eligible land trust is registered to receive reimbursement grants under the Program.
5. Application for Reimbursement Grant--Forms. Reimbursement grant application forms may be downloaded from the Department's website--www.pda.state.pa.us. The Department will also provide reimbursement grant application forms upon written request to the address in Paragraph (2) or upon requests telephoned to the Department's Bureau of Farmland Protection, (717) 783-3167. The Department will also enclose a reimbursement grant application form with any ''Acknowledgement of Registration'' described in Paragraph (4).
6. Application for Reimbursement Grant--Timing. If an eligible land trust is registered to receive reimbursement grants under the Program it may, within 60 days of closing on the acquisition of an agricultural conservation easement, deliver to the State Board a written application for a reimbursement grant under the Program. An eligible land trust may submit a reimbursement grant application with respect to an agricultural conservation easement acquisition that predates the publication date of this notice, as long as it meets the referenced 60-day filing deadline.
7. Application for Reimbursement Grant--Content. A reimbursement grant application form shall be delivered to the address set forth in Paragraph (2) and shall:
a. Request a reimbursement of costs incidental to the acquisition of an agricultural conservation easement.
b. Have enclosed a statement of the costs (such as costs of appraisals, legal services, title searches, document preparation, title insurance, closing fees and surveys) incidental to the acquisition of the agricultural conservation easement.
c. Have enclosed a true and correct copy of the recorded deed of agricultural conservation easement.
d. Have enclosed a copy of a recorded document indicating the agricultural conservation easement relates to land that is within an agricultural security area (such as a copy of a recorded agricultural security area, showing book and page of recording).
8. State Board Review. The State Board will review complete, timely applications for a reimbursement grant within 60 days of receipt. The Department shall stamp or otherwise identify each complete reimbursement grant application to record the date and the order in which the applications are received. The State Board will consider reimbursement grant applications in the order they are received. The State Board may not approve a reimbursement grant application unless all of the following criteria are met:
a. The application meets the requirements of section 14.5 of the act (3 P. S. § 914.5).
b. The land use restrictions imposed under the deed of agricultural conservation easement are comparable to restrictions imposed under a deed of agricultural conservation easement acquired in accordance with the act.
c. The land subject to the agricultural conservation easement is within an agricultural security area.
d. There are sufficient unencumbered funds available to fund the reimbursement grant amount sought in the reimbursement grant application.
9. Notice of Decision. The State Board will, within 10 days of completing its review, mail a reimbursement grant applicant written notice as to whether the reimbursement grant application is approved. If the application is not approved, the written notice will specify the basis for disapproval.
10. Counties that are not ''Eligible Counties.'' Under section 3 of the act, an ''eligible county'' is a county whose agricultural conservation easement purchase program has been approved by the State Board. If an eligible land trust that is registered to receive reimbursement grants seeks a reimbursement grant with respect to an agricultural conservation easements it acquires in a county that is not an ''eligible county,'' it must coordinate its farmland preservation activities in that county with the farmland preservation activities of the State Board.
11. State Board approval. State Board approval of a reimbursement grant application is the event that establishes entitlement of the applicant to the grant funds sought, provided allocated funds are available in an amount adequate to fund the grant.
12. Additional Information. Further information may be obtained by contacting the Department of Agriculture, Attn: Mary Y. Bender, Director, Bureau of Farmland Protection, 2301 North Cameron Street, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9408, (717) 783-3167.
13. Effective Date. This notice is effective as of December 19, 2002.
SAMUEL E. HAYES, Jr.,
[Pa.B. Doc. No. 03-19. Filed for public inspection January 3, 2003, 9:00 a.m.]
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