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Farmland preservation funding approved in W.Va.

March 11, 2002|BY DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A method of funding farmland preservation passed in the final moments of the Legislature Saturday, but not without a controversial amendment.

The bill passed by the Legislature allows counties to raise money for farmland preservation efforts by taking a share of county hotel and motel taxes or increasing a real estate transfer tax, said Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson and other officials.

The bill allows the real estate transfer tax to be increased up to $2.20 for every $1,000 worth of property value, said Doyle.

The process turned controversial when Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, amended the bill to say that any property that is valued more than $1 million would be exempt from the tax hike if it is sold, said Doyle.

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Doyle called Snyder's amendment "grossly unfair" and possibly unconstitutional.

Doyle said there are not many real estate sales that involve properties that are valued more than $1 million. But each one could generate a sizable amount of money for farmland protection, said Doyle.

Doyle said he would have attempted to kill Snyder's amendment, but time ran out in the Legislative session Saturday.

"Dale and I just held our noses," said Doyle, referring to his colleague, Del. Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson.

"It's really stupid," Doyle said.

Doyle said he didn't know Snyder's reasoning for the amendment. Snyder, who has been making a push to land a new NASCAR race track in the Eastern Panhandle, could not be reached for comment Sunday night.

Two years ago, the Legislature passed a bill that allows counties to set up farmland protection boards. The boards, which now exist in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan Counties, are designed to protect farmland from development by offering farmers money to set up protective easements on their land.

Farmland protection has been a hot-button issue in the Eastern Panhandle, where agricultural land is giving way to residential development.

The farmland protection bill was one of a small group of bills relating to the Eastern Panhandle that passed during the 60-day session, which has drawn criticism here at home.

There were about six bills that county officials were rooting for this year, but they got little attention, said Jefferson County Commission President James K. Ruland.

"It just doesn't look like this stuff is allowed to be processed," Ruland said at the commissioners meeting last Thursday.

Ruland said calling the legislative session discouraging "would be an understatement."

Doyle said legislative committee chairs were skittish about putting issues on their agendas because they were getting a lot of pressure from lobbyists in different subjects.

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