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Farm preservation gets big boost

March 12, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

In the closing moments of the 2001 session, the West Virginia Legislature gave counties the power to increase a local tax to fund farmland preservation efforts. Despite a controversial amendment introduced at the last minute, the bill takes a significant step toward saving prime agricultural land while it's still there to save.

The bill would allow counties to fund preservation by creating a real estate transfer tax, at the rate of $2.20 for every $1,000 worth of property value. It would also allow local governments to dedicate additional monies to the fund, or seek special grants to build it up.

The amendment that stirred up concern in the session's closing hours came from state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson. He added a feature which said any property valued at more than $1 million would be exempt from the tax hike if sold.

How many properties would this affect? It's unknown now, but the amendment may have the unintended effect of slowing sales as property owners hold onto large tracts until prices reach the point where they can be exempted from the tax.

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We have long supported farmland preservation efforts. That's because when farms are developed, citizens who make no profit from the sale get saddled with some of the costs, in the form of new schools, upgraded roads and an increased demand for government services.

It will be interesting to watch how this effort moves forward, because a similar effort to fund farmland preservation and school construction with a real-estate transfer tax was scuttled by Washington County's state lawmakers in 2001.

Washington County has also had the power to levy impact fees since 1990, but the commissioners said last year that the county's slow growth didn't justify all the effort involved.

The point that Jefferson County lawmakers like state Sen. John Unger have grasped, however, is that the time to get your toolbox ready is before you need it. We hope their foresight will inspire some on this side of the Potomac.

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