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Land use tax hearing attracts large audience

by Larry S. Chowning

When Pinetop District supervisor Carlton Revere finished his explanation Monday night that outlined who is in charge of setting the rules for land-use taxation, there was almost a sigh of relief among the other four county supervisors who were facing a courtroom full of large landowners and waterfront property owners.

This was due, in part, from Revere’s findings that land-use taxation laws are set in stone by the Virginia General Assembly, and the only way to change those rules is through the legislature—not through the county board of supervisors.

According to Revere, supervisors also have little to do with changes in land-use rates and values. He stated that values used by the county for an acre of land-use property are determined by the county commissioner of the revenue and “not by us,” said Revere.

Although the board was actually holding a public hearing on raising fees surrounding land-use applications and readjusting the time for reapplying, it was apparent that the hearing had a much broader scope.

The meeting was symbolic of changes going on in the county as residential landowners (waterfront and off-water) are becoming a more powerful lobby group as they continually shoulder more and more of the tax burden in Middlesex, while larger landowners receive a sizable tax break through land-use taxation.

It was apparent from the start of Tuesday’s hearing that neither side wanted to totally get rid of land-use taxation. Land-use taxation is a way of keeping the rural character of the county, which is “something everyone seems to want,” said Revere.

Gordon White of Hardy-ville said, “Protecting land from development is not necessarily a bad thing. I am not suggesting that all the present land-use acreage be assessed as though it is currently building lots, but in Essex County I am told that land-use acreage is assessed at $1,000 an acre.”

Middlesex County currently assesses timberland at $445 per acre and open and farmland at $558 per acre under its land-use ordinance. 

“Just by adopting $1,000, the difference to Middlesex would be between $19 million and $24 million in assessed value, depending on the amount of land classified as farmland or wood lots,” said White. “It would be fairer in this time of tight budgets and economic hardship.”

W.D. Edwards of Saluda, who is in the timber business, said, “A tree and a stalk of corn do not cost the county of Middlesex anything in services. They don’t go to school. They don’t need police service. They don’t need waste management. If you want this county to stay rural you better not raise the taxes on land use too much because the cornfields and forest will turn into housing developments, and that will cost Middlesex County a lot more money.”

Supervisors voted to raise the land-use application fee, revalidation fee and late fee from $20 to $25 and to require revalidation every four years, rather than six. The revalidation fee will continue to be due every six years.

Middlesex Commissioner of the Revenue Bonnie Davenport had requested that the application and revalidation fees be raised to $50, and late fee to $25.

Pinetop District supervisor Fred Crittenden indicated Davenport’s proposed fees represented too large an increase and made a motion to make the fees $25. The board voted unanimously to set the fees at $25.

More on Tuesday night’s meeting on land-use taxation will appear next week.

posted 02.16.2011

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