By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer
The past few months, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors have discussed how the land use program works and information regarding it. On September 7, the supervisors voted to keep the program as is. The vote was contentious at 3-2 with Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) and Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) voting against it.
The program helps keep the county rural by reducing real estate taxes for property owners who use the land for agricultural, horticultural or forestry uses. The fourth section of the land use program is called open space.
Last month, the supervisors had a work session regarding the program but didn’t vote on it. On September 7th in the regular session the supervisors returned to the subject during unfinished business.
As soon as the item came up, Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) immediately moved to reaffirm the program as it currently is stated. Don Weaver (Fork Union District) seconded the motion. O’Brien then requested the item be discussed.
“I’m a little surprised board members are so happy to push this under the rug,” said O’Brien.
O’Brien said he wanted the item to be tabled until he could get answers to 17 questions he had sent to Commissioner of the Revenue Mel Sheridan. Mel Sheridan was not at the meeting.
O’Brien requested the supervisors hire a third party to investigate if residents utilizing land use are complying with the rules of the program. The third party could rule if residents qualify.
From there the residents could make amends to become compliant, change to a section of the program they do comply with or just pay full taxes and no longer be in the program.
Booker said she had no problem having an audit performed by a third party saying residents might not know they aren’t in compliance, herself included.
“We want land use. This county wants to be rural,” said Booker.
O’Brien said there were supervisors who should recuse themselves from the vote because they should know they aren’t compliant with the program.
Eager asked O’Brien to name who he thinks is not compliant as she has done everything to be compliant. He replied he never thought she wasn’t but questioned if Weaver and chairperson Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) were compliant. He also thought Booker might not be compliant but she was in a different arm of the program.
Sheridan said he asked a cooperative agent if he was in compliance and was told his practices were.
Fred Payne, county attorney, gave a legal opinion that supervisors do not have to recuse themselves just because they participate in the program.
O’Brien also suggested Mike Sheridan should recuse himself because Mel Sheridan is his brother.
Payne’s said Mike Sheridan had no need legally reason to recuse himself. He continued supervisors can always recuse themselves if they feel it is necessary but there was no legal reason to do so.
Weaver, who was quiet for the discussion, called for a vote which ended the discussion.
O’Brien said under his breath after the vote, “Embarrassing.”
Following the vote O’Brien made a motion to put the full rules of the land use program on the county’s website.
Payne then gave a legal opinion the motion was out of order because the issue was already voted on. Mike Sheridan then ruled the motion out of order thus not allowing it. O’Brien asked for a clarification of the opinion.
Payne said the motion was continuing an item that was discussed and voted on therefore a second vote was not necessary. The original vote was to ‘reaffirm and retain current Fluvanna County Land Use Program ordinances, policies, and procedures.’
O’Brien then asked the county administrator Steve Nichols who makes decisions regarding information on the website. Nichols said staff does not make decisions on content on the portions regarding the constitutional officers. Commissioner of Revenue is a constitutional officer.
As checked on the evening of Sept. 7, the Commissioner of Revenue’s portion of the website has a land use program section. There is a brief description of the program and another PDF page of instructions of the program.
As part of the PDF, there is citation of the exact county ordinance regarding land use and told to look for the ordinance on the county’s website. The PDF also says residents can call the commissioner’s office for further information.
Mel Sheridan was unavailable for comment regarding the Board of Supervisors meeting.
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