Dakota County broke some ground last year when residents of the fast-growing area voted to tax themselves to create a $20 million fund to acquire farmland and open space for conservation.
The first fruit of the Dakota County Farmland and Natural Area Program came in the form of a donation from an Eagan farmer, who turned over control of a 34-acre parcel of land, valued at $3.4 million, to the county. The best part: It didn't cost the county a thing. The land, northwest of the intersection of Wescott Rd. and Lexington Av. in Eagan, was turned over by owner Patrick McCarthy, who will use the donation to offset estate taxes owed to the IRS after the death of his brother, James.
"I think this ends up a win-win," said Nancy Schouweiler, who was among the seven Dakota County commissioners who voted unanimously to approve the plan during an emergency board meeting. The board gathered Monday afternoon to meet a Sept. 22 deadline imposed by the IRS for making the donation, said Rollie Crawford, McCarthy's attorney. Crawford said the exact amount of the tax benefit to McCarthy has not been calculated. Technically, the county receives a permanent easement to the property while McCarthy retains ownership and tax liability on it. "He just really wants to see it preserved," Crawford said.
The board's decision drew immediate praise from conservationists, who have been working to acquire the McCarthy land and hundreds of acres elsewhere in the city to create a green corridor. "We are grateful, we are delighted," said Jack Conrad of the group Friends of Patrick Eagan Park.
The county's preservation plan calls for spending $20 million over 10 years to buy and preserve anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 acres of farmland and natural areas. Voters approved a bond referendum last fall to pay for the planned purchases. A similar plan failed in Washington County in 2000, largely because of opposition to its cost. To pay for the program in Dakota County, owners of a median-value home, priced at $176,500, will pay $17 more annually property tax increase. Owners of $300,000 homes will pay nearly $30 more each year.
Heron Marquez Estrada is at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on Friends of Patrick Eagan Park visit www.friendsofpatrickeaganpark.org