On Wednesday, May 14, the county Board of Supervisors voted to unanimously “re-validate” the Land Use Taxation Program while also agreeing to study substantial changes to the program. Under the current system, landowners are allowed to significantly lower taxes on undeveloped land used for agricultural uses, while only having to pay full taxes on their home and the surrounding two acres.
Many farmers argue that this allows them to stay in business by avoiding costly taxes. Nearly 60 percent of county acreage—256,000 acres—is in the program. While the fair market value of these parcels is $3.026 billion, the land use value is $376 million, according to a critic of the program. As a result, there will be $18.8 million in deferred taxes this year.
Supervisor David Slutzky argued that the county should only grant land use status to property in conservation easements, drawing boos from the pro-land use crowd.
For some, that money could be used to help a county that sometimes strains to provide adequate infrastructure. Others point to too many potential abuses of the system—until it was rezoned, a 63-acre parcel that’s part of the North Pointe development only required $132 in 2005 taxes. Currently, a land use property owner who changes zoning on a property must pay the full value of taxes going back five years. Some think that should be extended to 10 years.
Supervisor David Slutzky argued that the county should only grant land use status to property in conservation easements, which would nullify all development rights in perpetuity. He urged landowners in attendance at Lane Auditorium to place their land in conservation easements. Many booed in response.
For a land owner like Clara Belle Wheeler, this suggestion is downright offensive. “This is about power and control,” she says. “This is not about me.” Even though her 77-acre parcel is currently in land use tax, she says she is speaking up for the farmer who has no disposable income and who may need to sell land at some point. If the only way to avoid full taxes is conservation easement, then they will have no option if times get tough.
“I could go stand out in the middle of 64 but that would not be smart,” she says, using metaphor to describe the conundrum. “Take away the land use tax for these people and they’ll have to sell to developers.”
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