05 April 2016
Supervisor pushes to rethink beloved program
Fluvanna’s land use program cost the county $2.7 million in uncollected revenue last year. Yet even in the face of ever-increasing taxes, the Board of Supervisors to this point hasn’t been willing to consider getting rid of it.
Recently Supervisor Tony O’Brien – the only supervisor with no land in the program – has started to press the issue. “I’m not against land use per se, but I wonder if it’s a good deal for the county,” he said. “There are a lot of questions I’d like to get answers to.”
But Supervisor Trish Eager thinks land use is more than just a good idea – rather, she said, it preserves the very character of the county. “Fluvanna can’t stay rural if we get rid of land use,” she said.
Should the county eliminate land use and lower the tax rate significantly – perhaps by close to 10 cents? Or would doing so compromise the very essence of Fluvanna?What is land use?
Land use, which has been in Fluvanna for over 40 years, is a program geared toward preserving rural space, said Mel Sheridan, commissioner of the revenue, who is tasked by state code with carrying out the program in Fluvanna.
By giving tax breaks to landowners who choose not to develop, land use “is designed specifically to encourage people with large parcels of land to keep them as large parcels rather than developing them when the opportunity is there,” said Sheridan.
So rather than paying full price, owners of land that meets certain conditions pay only a fraction of the taxes they would normally owe.
For example, someone with 51 acres of agricultural land would typically owe $1,834 in taxes on that land given the current tax rate of 89.9 cents per $100 valuation. But that same land in the land use program would only cost its owner $115 in taxes. That’s a tax break of 93.7 percent.How does it work?
Landowners who want to put their property in land use have to certify under penalty of law that their land is being used for the particular purpose they have selected – whether it be agricultural, such as farming, forestal, such as timbering, or open space, which simply means the land is lying open and undeveloped. A third element to the program, conservation easements, are more complicated and are governed by state rules.