By. Neil Williamson, President
There has been a great deal of discussion recently regarding the unique revenue sharing agreement signed in 1982 between the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. The agreement was signed to prevent the City from using its annexation power to take economically productive County land.
Think back to 1982:
- Ronald Reagan was in the White House
- Albemarle had a population of 57,000 people
- Olivia Newton John was on top of the Billboard Charts with “Physical”
Yes, much has changed about this community since 1982, the Free Enterprise Forum believes the agreement (or at least the revenue calculation) is in need of significant revision. Considering the actions of City Council over the last decade, this agreement is environmentally inconsistant.
It is important to note that at the time the agreement was taken to the voters of both localities, the business community stood vocally in favor of the agreement.
Sunday’s (3/21) Daily Progress included an editorial penned by three former Charlottesville City Councilors (two former mayors) titled “Revenue sharing—how it came to this”. The goal of the editorial seemed to be to provide some context to how the agreement came into exist and to further document the legal obligation of both parties to the agreement.
Delegate David Toscano has started his own community voices blog to explore the issue prior to the April 24th joint meeting of City Council and Albemarle County Board of Supervisors that he helped to arrange.
While the Free Enterprise Forum is not convinced without the revenue sharing agreement Charlottesville would have been successful in its attempt to annex parts of Albemarle, we tend to believe if the agreement did not exist, Charlottesville may have eventually reverted to town status and demanded increased county provided services.
The heart of the unfairness regarding land use value taxation is the equation used in the aptly named revenue sharing agreement. The equation generates a formula driven by:
The value of locally asses real property improved and unimproved.
Based on discussions with individuals who were involved in writing the agreement, the Free Enterprise Forum understands the choice of language was deliberate. Charlottesville, who then “held all the cards”, did not desire to recognize any tax abatements Albemarle may have provided its citizens. Such abatements would include use valuation tax also known as land use value taxation.
A parcel under land use value taxation pays full property tax on their residence and the acreage around it but receives a tax abatement on the land that qualifies. Albemarle County accepts all four of the state defined four land uses for valuation:
- Agriculture Use: Land used for agricultural use must consist of a minimum of five acres and must meet prescribed standards for a bona fide production for sale of crops and/or livestock or be in an approved soil conservation program.
- Horticulture Use: Land used for horticulture use must consist of a minimum of five acres and must meet prescribed standards for bona fide production for sale of fruits, vegetables, ornamental plants and/or ornamental products.
- Forest Use: Land used for forestal use must be a minimum of twenty acres and must include standing timber and trees devoted to tree growth in such quantity and so spaced and maintained as to constitute a forest area.
- Open Space: Land in open space must be at least five acres or such greater minimum acreage, set by local ordinance, and be used to provide or preserve the land for park or recreational purposes, conservation of land or other natural resources, floodways, historic or scenic purposes or to assist in the shaping of the character, direction, or timing of community development, or for the public interest and consistent with the local land use plan. In 1990, the Board set the minimum acreage for open space at 20 acres.
Last May, Charlottesville Tomorrow reported:
As of 2008, 59.8% of the land in Albemarle County is enrolled in land use, which includes parcels in both the rural area and growth areas (where undeveloped). That results in deferred taxes of $18.78 million this year. Land use is viewed by County officials as one strategic tool for protecting the County’s rural fields, farms, and forests.
Albemarle County is pleased to announce substantial increases in acreage placed in agricultural and forestal districts, open space, conservation easements and parkland in the County’s rural area by landowners in 2009 according to new figures released today. Albemarle added a total of almost 11,500 acres of conserved land last year, including significant acreage protected with donated conservation easements to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and the Piedmont Environmental Council. Of that 11,500 total, approximately 3,800 acres were permanently protected in the rural area through conservation easements, bringing the total acreage of conservation easements in Albemarle County to over 81,000.
Why would the city which clearly benefits from the significant environmental contributions expect revenue sharing dollars that may exceed tax collected?
After being made aware of this institutional environmental inconsistency, will the City Council consider reopening the calculation to better reflect Council’s sustainability positions?
Or will Charlottesville continue chasing a different shade of green?
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org