Great bill; more transparency

Farmland preservation has proved to be a wise investment in the region’s economy and honors our rich agricultural heritage.

We applaud the bill, but believe it needs some tweaking.

Supporting local farmers makes good sense, and their loyalty deserves extra consideration, but as it stands, there is the potential for abuse here.

Sponsored by 8th District Republican Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego, Assemblyman Chris Brown and Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, the legislation is also supported by 7th District Democratic Assemblymen Herb Conaway and Troy Singleton.

The bill is the result of a particularly frustrating situation that occurred several years ago with land that straddles Bordentown Township and Mansfield. A local farmer lost out on a lease for county land he had farmed for several years to a higher bidder because the freeholders could only consider the amount of his bid, not his status as a long-term local farming the land.

That farmer had made an investment in the land and deserved the additional consideration, but giving elected officials the option not to accept the highest bidder leaves the process open to potential manipulation.

The winning bid was also from a county farmer — just not someone who had previously farmed that land.

Preserved farmland is held in trust for the public. It belongs to us all. If we’re going to give local officials additional leeway in determining who wins an auction or gets the lease, then taxpayers ought to know the specific reasoning behind the decision. Lease or auction, the entire bidding process should be as transparent as possible. Perhaps all amounts could be disclosed to the public — not just the winning bid.

There is little reason not to support local farmers, but there should be absolutely no opportunity for intimidation, favoritism or manipulation in the bidding process.

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