Rio Land Use Arithmetic

By. Neil Williamson, President

This morning’s (10/12) Daily Progress features a front page story on land use taxation by Brandon Shulleeta .  Under the banner headline “Slutzky eyes land use tax restriction”, Shulleeta writes that Mr. Slutzky “may propose major reforms”.  In our estimation the proposal outlined is better described as the repeal of land use taxation in Albemarle County.

photo_cow2Shulleeta reports:

Under David L. Slutzky’s idea, rural landowners would be given a choice: They could pay real-estate taxes based on the land’s fair market value just like the vast majority of county landowners, or they could get massive land use tax breaks by agreeing to keep their land permanently undeveloped through conservation easements.

That change would mean some rural landowners would no longer receive land use tax breaks and would pay thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars more in taxes each year, money that could be used by the county for education, transportation and other services, or to reduce the tax burden on the vast majority of county taxpayers.

“I came to the conclusion that it may make sense for the county to say: ‘We’re going to reserve land use tax for people who truly preserve the land,’” Slutzky said in a recent interview.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the land use taxation program is clearly a net benefit to Albemarle County.  We agree with retiring Supervisor Sally Thomas the “Cows don’t go to School”.  To those who believe this is a way that land rich folks get by without paying taxes, we are quick to point out all landowners pay the same tax levy on their primary residence and surrounding acreage.

We take great issue with Mr. Slutzky’s suggestion that land in land use is not “preservation”.  We have equated land use and conservation easements to the difference between renting and owning. We would argue the ecological benefits provided by a farm in land use for twenty years are the same as the ecological benefits of a farm in an easement.  The generational stewardship of Albemarle County’s countryside has long been “preserved” by the very farmers that relied on the land for their livelihoods.

This is not the first time Mr. Slutzky has brought forward the concept of Land Use taxation “reform”.  In July, 2008 the Board of Supervisors had a comprehensive review of the Land Use taxation regulations. In order to move any action forward the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors requires four votes.  Our blog post highlights part of the discussion: 

After dealing with a couple of routine public hearing items, the Albemarle Board moved swiftly into a discussion with Mark Graham, Director of Community Development regarding so called “Option 2″ for restructuring land use.  Mr. Graham’s review of the potential program highlighted the rather high costs for Albemarle County in the short term and the lack of significant long term benefits.  The staff report concluded with a recommendation not to move forward with Option 2. 

Supervisor David Slutzky raised a number of questions regarding staff’s analysis regarding market concerns created by enacting Option 2.  Supervisor Dennis Rooker also joined in the discussion related to lots that might be flooded onto the market.  Mr. Slutzky also asked his fellow Board members if they might be interested in seeing this topic reviewed if and when a Transfer of Development Rights program was considered. 

Supervisor Sally Thomas mentioned the ecological importance of trees beyond just as a renewable resource for lumber. 

After what for this board was a short discussion, Chairman Ken Boyd asked the question many in the room were thinking “Are there four of us that want to continue this discussion?”  In the end it was a 6-0 decision not to move forward with Option 2.

In the end the Board of Supervisors directed staff to work with County land owners and develop a land use revalidation system to make sure those receiving land use taxation benefits were truly using the land.  Some refered to this as “Counting Cows”.  Landowners (some prompted by their supervisors) returned the land use revalidation forms beyond expectation and the County Assessor is now evaluating the forms.

So what has changed?  Why is David Slutzky’s well known stand on land use taxation suddenly front page news?

Mr. Slutzky is in a political campaign in one of the most urban of Albemarle’s six magisterial districts.  Could this lukewarm call for land use repeal (“I’m not even sure I’d vote for it”) represent a political calculation?

Regardless of his own personal views, does Mr. Slutzky believe in January he will have four supervisors who will vote to repeal land use taxation?   I think not.  

Mr. Slutzky is not counting cows or supervisors; he is not counting the many ecological benefits of land use; he is counting Rio District voters that are ineligible for land use.  He is counting on their votes November 3rd.

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