MEDINA, Ohio — The campaign for a purchase of development rights (PDR) program was defeated on Super Tuesday in Medina County.
The 10-year, .25 percent sales tax would have allowed the county to acquire agricultural easements for the purpose of protecting farmland from non-agricultural development.
The final tally was 14,531 votes for, and 17,943 against the tax.
James Gerspacher, president of Gerspacher Real Estate Inc. in Medina, said he was surprised at the numbers.
“I was pleasantly surprised in finding out just how many would be willing to pay to preserve land,” said Gerspacher. “It was a lot closer than I expected.”
Passage of the levy would have made Medina the first county in Ohio to increase taxes for land preservation.
Medina County Commissioner Patricia Geissman said she expected the tax to fail and did not think the difference of about 3,400 votes was close.
Christopher Knopf, director of the Ohio field office of Trust for Public Land, said, the 55-45 percent split in voting was better than he expected, considering the hurdles supporters tried to overcome.
“It was a challenge to make this a success. We had short campaign time — only about two months. I believe the ballot language was confusing and unappealing. And, if you review the history of sales tax issues in Medina County, they have never done well,” said Knopf. “Those are three big factors to overcome.”
But Knopf said other Ohio counties should not be discouraged by the fate of the Medina County farmland preservation tax.
Gerspacher agreed, saying PDR may be more appropriate for other counties in Ohio where urban growth hasn’t already taken over.
“Tax increase is always hard for anyone to tackle. I think (PDR) may be more viable where there is more farming than in Medina County, where land is cheaper and the tax dollar would go a little further in protecting the land. Medina is pretty far into its growth cycle,” Gerspacher said.
Knopf said Medina County commissioners should revisit the idea, even though he admitted that it’s unlikely the issue will return to a ballot vote.
“I think time is working against us,” Knopf said. “It’s soon going to be too late for Medina County farmers. The time to act is now.”
County commissioner Patricia Geissman said it is time for the county to put PDR behind them and look to other ways of conserving land. She said the county Farmland Preservation Task Force offered about 10 recommendations to the commissioners, including a tax reduction for farmers, updating and recognizing conservation development subdivisions, review of the county’s fee structure and cost recovery policies.
She also encourages townships to examine zoning regulations to include designation of agricultural areas.
All those involved, pro or con, believe the issue was confusing and not enough information was distributed to the public.
“A lot of things happened in a short amount of time. In my opinion, I believe misunderstandings about PDR led to its defeat,” said Mike Miller, OSU Extension agriculture and national resources agent.
Michael Kovack, Medina County auditor, believes if supporters would’ve had more time to campaign, the levy would have passed. He said this is closest any sales tax has come to passing in the county in eight years.
“The issue went to the ballot under heavy constraints and the odds were against us,” said Kovack. “I think the fact that we garnered 45 percent of the vote speaks very well of how important this issue is to the people. Given only eight weeks to campaign and being the first in the state to try it were big challenges.”
He also believes the levy will never again be seen on a ballot in the county.
“It’s done here in Medina County,” said Kovack. “Hopefully, other counties like Wayne County, Portage County and Geauga County will pick up the ball and continue to fight for farmland preservation.”