Maryland's Program for the Certification of County Agricultural Land Preservation Programs

The Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) and MALPF jointly administer the Program for the Certification of County Agricultural Land Preservation Programs (the “Certification Program”). Created by the Maryland General Assembly in 1990, the Certification Program lets counties keep more locally generated agricultural land transfer tax in exchange for creating effective local land preservation programs and continually evaluating and improving them. Program participation by interested counties is voluntary. Counties with an effective local agricultural land preservation program that wish to be certified apply to both the MDP and MALPF. Sixteen of Maryland’s twenty-three counties are either fully or conditionally certified under this Program as of June 30, 2019.

Certified counties are allowed to keep 75% of the Agricultural Transfer Tax revenue (uncertified counties retain 33% of the revenue). All retained funds must be spent or encumbered for land preservation purposes within six years or the funds revert to the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Fund. Retained funds can be used to purchase land preservation easements through a local program or a State program, used in the MALPF’s Matching Funds Program, applied to service past debt accrued through land preservation activities, and/or used to help pay the administrative expenses for the county’s land preservation activities.

In combination with easement purchases, certified counties use other land preservation tools such as protective agricultural zoning, transfer of development rights (TDRs), right-to-farm protection, and the establishment of agriculture as the best use of designated land. They also must establish Priority Preservation Areas (PPAs) in their comprehensive plans and set a farmland preservation acreage goal for the PPA. In addition to preserving land through MALPF, certified counties have typically also preserved land through private land trusts, Maryland Environmental Trust (MET), the Rural Legacy Program, and the Federal land protection programs. Uncertified counties do not necessarily have less effective local agricultural land preservation programs but may have chosen not to participate in the Certification Program.

2018 Statutory Changes to the Certification Program​

In 2018 the General Assembly passed and Governor Hogan signed HB620, “County Agricultural Land Preservation Programs – Recertification and Remittance of Unexpended Funds – Extensions.” The law clarifies that a certified county seeking to renew its certification is requesting a “recertification” of its current (certified) status, not a new certification. This distinction allows for expanding the recertification period three years to five years, which better aligns recertification periods with the ten-year cycle of comprehensive plan updates. The legislation also extends from three years to six years the time that counties may spend or commit to spend funds from their local agricultural land transfer tax revenue. (As noted above, certified counties retain 75% of the locally generated agricultural land transfer tax, while and non-certified counties retain 33%.)  If the retained tax revenue is not spent or committed within the prescribed time period, the funds are remitted to the State Comptroller, and placed in the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Fund. 

Additional Information

Certification Program: Statutory Provisions. Annotated Code of Maryland. Title 5. State Planning. Subtitle 5. Governmental Coordination, Cooperation, and Assistance in Planning. §5-408. Certification of County Agricultural Land Preservation Programs. These are the most relevant statutory provisions for the State’s Certification Program.

Certification Program: Regulatory Provisions. Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR). Title 14. Independent Agencies. Subtitle 24. Office of Planning. Chapter 08. Guidelines for the Certification of County Agricultural Land Preservation Programs. These are the most relevant regulatory provisions for the State’s Certification Program.​ 

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