An open green space the size of nearly 66 football fields will be permanently protected from future development thanks to a decision made Monday by the Wake County Board of Commissioners. 

The board voted to use funds from the 2018 Parks, Greenways, Recreation, and Open Space bond to help preserve a 200-year-old working sheep farm in Zebulon.

Lazy J Ranch, owned by Patrick Johnson, is mostly pasture, with some wooded areas of oak-hickory forest, according to a news release. The 86-acre property also contains more than 3,500 feet of streams, some of which run up against Little Creek. The Wake Soil and Water Conservation District has certified that 99.7 percent of Lazy J Ranch’s soils are considered prime farmland or farmland of statewide importance.

“Wake County is growing rapidly, and that’s why protecting farmland and open space is so very important to this board,” said commissioner Vickie Adamson. “Not only does this decision conserve this special property, but it will help protect wildlife habitat and water quality.”

The county is protecting the land through a conservation easement, a voluntary legal agreement that permanently limits the uses of the land to protect its value. The cost of the easement, just over $1.3 million, is split between the county, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Triangle Land Conservancy, which will hold and monitor the easement. 

Wake County’s contribution is $350,000, with $281,500 coming from bond funds and $68,500 from NCDOT 540 settlement funding. The property is not open to the public at this time.

Also Monday, the board voted to raise the pay of Wake County paramedics and other emergency medical workers by an average of 21 percent.

The county has been struggling to attract qualified staff, especially as other EMS departments in the state and nation offer higher wages for fewer hours, according to Trinija Martin, deputy human resources director. 

In an effort to become more competitive in the labor market, the county is raising pay for about 327 EMS employees effective April 1. 

The raises range from 1-29 percent, with an average increase of 21 percent. The starting salary for EMTs is now $20 an hour, up from $17 an hour. Paramedics start at $28.13 an hour, up from $21.66.

“If we’re gonna retain and recruit the best folks, or in this market, any folks, to the positions that we obviously desperately need filled, we’ve gotta take substantial steps,” said commissioner Matt Calabria, also chair of the board’s public safety committee. “This is a tremendous step.”

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