Franchot Questions Fee Payments for Land Purchases
The Board of Public Works added 4,400 acres in Southern Maryland and Cecil County to Maryland's vault of land preserved for open space today with a $57 million purchase from the Jesuit order. The land, which includes 19 miles of Potomac River waterfront, has ecological and historical value, officials said.
The deal follows the recent purchase of a former logging site on the Eastern Shore for about $14 million. Both deals included hefty administrative fees paid by the state the state to non-profit conservation groups that oversaw the negotiations and appraisals.
This morning, Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), who sits on the public works board with Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and Treasurer Nancy Kopp (D), questioned the $606,000 payment to the Arlington-based Conservation Fund for today's purchase, saying the sum seemed too steep.
Franchot wondered why fees in this and other land deals are calculated at 3 percent of the purchase price of the property in question, saying the cut might prompt conservation groups to seek higher purchase prices for the state.
"Why are we in effect allowing them to be our agent, when in theory their agenda is different from ours?" Franchot said.
Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin said his agency relies heavily on conservation groups to sheperd through land purchases. "They know the local conditions better," he said.
And in some cases, they can negotiate better deals with landowners, he said. The Conservation Fund fee represents less than one percent of the purchase price of the Southern Maryland/Cecil properties; the group agreed to take less than 3 percent.
Similarly, The Arlingon-based Nature Conservancy received about $216,000 for helping negotiate the state's purchase of the Eastern Shore property, about half of what the group was entitled to, Griffin said.
"These are non-profit groups. They are not rolling in money," Griffin said.
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