26 April 2016
Land use is a program adopted by the Board of Supervisors and administered by Commissioner of the Revenue Mel Sheridan. It encourages open space, agriculture and forestry by giving significant tax breaks to landowners who use their properties in those ways.
But the tax breaks from land use cost the county $2.7 million in 2015. O’Brien wants to take a closer look at land use, especially by gathering more data, to see if tweaks or an overhaul of the program are in order.
The key distinction between O’Brien and the other supervisors is that he is the only one without any property in land use. Whether his status as land use outsider helps or hinders his quest to probe into the program depends on who’s doing the talking.
Supervisor Trish Eager far and away surpasses her colleagues on the Board in Fluvanna County land holdings with 829 acres. Though some of her parcels are residential and therefore don’t qualify for the program, other holdings are tucked away in land use. Land use saved Eager a whopping $28,515 in 2015 taxes.
But Eager noted that when she pulled six acres out of land use to sell them last winter, she paid $10,000 in rollback taxes to the county. When a parcel no longer qualifies for land use, the owner must pay the preceding five years’ worth of rollback taxes, or the difference between what she actually paid in taxes and what she would have paid if the land were not in land use.
“The reason we have land use is so that we can hold onto large parcels of land and not develop them,” said Eager. “Without that I’m afraid our county would look very different. Without this type of program, I wouldn’t be able to have the farm that I have. I think there are some misconceptions about land use. With rollback taxes – it’s not like the county doesn’t reclaim some of the money. And we pay taxes on any of our improvements [such as houses] just like anybody else does.”
A distant second, Supervisor Don Weaver owns 80 acres in Fluvanna. Land use saved him $1,995 in 2015 taxes.
“Land use keeps Fluvanna rural,” Weaver said. “I don’t really understand why people have a problem with that. They moved here and I think they enjoy the farmland.”
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