The Chester County commissioners unanimously approved Tuesday a 2011 budget that does not impose a tax increase but does slash the allocation for open-space acquisitions.
The commissioners said that during the last several months, they were urged repeatedly by residents without jobs or on fixed incomes to hold the line on spending.
"The message was sent by the people we serve, and we heeded that message," Chairwoman Carol Aichele said.
The $501,548,745 budget includes a freeze in wages and a reduction in open-space funding from $20 million to $10 million.
Mark J. Rupsis, the county's chief administrative officer, said residents were initially facing a 3.9 percent tax hike. He said a variety of measures were used to close the gap, including overall belt-tightening and taking $2.8 million from reserves, an amount that will not jeopardize the county's AAA bond rating.
Not everyone is pleased with the results.
In May, a group of conservancy officials and preservationists met with the commissioners, pleading for an alternative to open-space funding cuts. They pointed out that the depressed economy was making some previously unattainable properties affordable; moreover, they argued that once a property is developed, it's gone forever.
Linda Morrison, a principal with Safety, Agriculture, Villages and Environment Inc., a community advocacy nonprofit, called the open-space funding cuts "shortsighted" on Tuesday.
She said SAVE has county data showing that whenever a farm becomes a housing development, "school district taxes skyrocket."
"Land prices are low, and now is the time to buy," she said.
Aichele said that Chester County has been "a consistent trailblazer" in land preservation, with more than 23 percent of the county protected. She said even with the decreased allotment, the county will meet its goal of 30 percent of the county's land preserved by 2015.
Fellow Republican Commissioner Terence Farrell suggested that those who are displeased with the commissioners' actions have an option: form a group called "Friends of Open Space" and start soliciting donations.
Democratic Commissioner Kathi Cozzone said that she was "not happy" with the reduced funding but that she was also mindful that the county's unemployment rate had nearly doubled.