The Higher Bar for Land Use

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors had an unusually full house earlier this week when they discussed their land use tax relief policy.  Under the policy, land that is in agricultural production or forestry is taxed at a lower rate than the standard rate.  As several supervisors took pains to point out, the property owner is paying the full rate on their residence and the two acres that surrounds it.

The Supervisors agreed to review and likely implement a self certification program to make sure all those land owners receiving land use taxation are using the property according to the rules.  The specifics of the certification program have not yet been worked out but The Free Enterprise Forum believes any such program must be user friendly and not require outside assistance to fill out.

In the more heated discussion, Albemarle County Supervisors decided to take a look at, as Supervisor Dennis Rooker put it, “raising the bar” on the land use program.  To be fair, not one supervisor indicated a desire to completely eliminate the program but Supervisor David Slutzky seemed to be the most adamant about changing the participation parameters. 

One option Mr. Slutzky mentioned was providing land use taxation only to those parcels under conservation easement.  This option failed to receive support of the Board.  In the end the Board of Supervisors agreed to hear back from staff regarding “Option 2” which would require land owners to enter into a contractual agreement with Albemarle County that they would not develop their land for a period of time between 4 and 10 years.  The motion passed 4-2 with Chairman Ken Boyd and Supervisor Lindsey Dorrier in the minority.  

Staff indicated the re-validation discussion would move forward in June and the discussion of possible changes to the land use participation parameters would follow shortly thereafter.

While The Free Enterprise Forum is in support of a reasonable re-validation program, we believes the proposed participation parameter change will unintentionally accelerate the conversion of farm land to residential.  Example:  Farmer John Smith has 150 acres of land in land use with 8 development rights on the parcel.  If he runs into a tough year, major medical issue, or other financial hardship, he can split off a section of his parcel and sell that section to make ends meet.  If he had signed the proposed participation agreement (that like a conservation easement would go with the land) he would be forbidden to sell a small portion and could be forced to sell the farm.  It would be likely the purchaser of the farm land would calculate the carrying costs of the land until the agreement lapsed and the cost of 5 years of back taxes and reduce the amount available to Farmer Smith.  This is a bad policy.

Currently, when land moves out of land use the landowner is responsible for the current year and five years of back taxes at the prevailing rate.  The proposed participation parameters amount to local government looking to gain more control over land.  With over 60% of Albemarle County in Land Use (not including those in conservation easements) we believe the program is working. 

“Raising the Bar” will generate great distrust with little or no benefit to Albemarle County residents.



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