An Open Letter to Our Supporters About the Defeat of the Farmland Millage–2006

From our 2006 Annual Report

By a convincing margin voters in Leelanau County defeated the Farmland Preservation proposal yesterday. The half-mill levy would have generated nearly $1 million annually to purchase the development rights from willing farmers. To date, 15 farmers have applied to the program, representing over 3,000 acres.

It is too early to know with certainty why voters so soundly rejected the proposal. However, experience in other communities on open space and farmland preservation initiatives indicates that, in order to succeed with the voters, a ballot initiative needs political leadership at the top, and success is very difficult if there is organized opposition. This proposal did not enjoy the support of the county commissioners who placed it on the ballot (only one out of seven commissioners campaigned for the proposal) and the opposition was well organized and effective.

There was a fair amount of last minute messaging by the opposition and much of that distorted the facts. But I don’t think that any of that, given the margin in the popular vote, would have swung the election.

We tip our hats to all who were willing to invest in the future of farming in Leelanau and to the people of Save Leelanau Farmland for their enormous hard work and grassroots effort to protect our working farms. Thanks to this proposal, the conversation about how to protect farmland has been brought to the table and more than any other time in our history people are talking about conservation and how to best do it. Most people say they care about protecting farmland. They just disagree on how this should be done.

So where do we go from here? Rest assured that the preservation of working family farms in Leelanau County will remain a focus of the Conservancy. Tomorrow our Farmland Committee will discuss how the Conservancy can best move forward. Next week the full Board and staff meets in its annual Strategic Planning session, and farmland preservation will be a major topic.It may take some time, but we all feel that a program which supports the continuance of agriculture as a major industry in Leelanau County will emerge, and our private resources will play an important role in formulating and implementing that program.

After all, there are 50 farmers, representing one-quarter of the active farmland in Leelanau County that have publicly stated their desire to have a farmland preservation program in Leelanau County, and nearly 4,500 voters who have stated a willingness to help fund it. This is a great start, and a place from which we can continue to build support for protecting our globally important farmland.

For now, we will continue to work hard at what we do: protecting land. Without a public funding mechanism that could have brought in state and federal matching funds, we will not be able to protect nearly as much farmland as we had hoped. But we have great assets—we have you, our supporters, as well as a terrific staff and board who are unwavering in their commitment to our mission. Right now we have many land protection projects on the table from wetlands to shoreline to farmland and we will continue to complete these projects and take on as many new ones as our staff and fundraising capacity can handle. New tax incentives for conservation easements have created renewed or new interest with large landowners in Leelanau and we are working with them to conserve these special places.

For nearly two decades our mission has been to protect the land, water and scenic character of Leelanau County. Vote or no vote, that hasn’t changed. We’ll continue to do all we can and are as passionate as we have ever been and more resolved than ever to protect what we all love about Leelanau County. We are grateful for your ongoing support and will keep you updated as we go forward.

Brian Price
Executive Director, Leelanau Conservancy

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