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Farmland plan may be in place by this summer

December 30, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A farmland protection plan has been completed for Jefferson County and an official who worked on the document believes the program will be in place by summer at the latest.

Farmland protection has been gaining interest in the Eastern Panhandle, where agricultural land is quickly giving way to residential development.

Two years ago, the West Virginia 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 offered for preservation is rated based on a list of criteria, including development pressure, the type of soil on the property and its proximity to other farmland that has been preserved, said Shannon Donley, chairman of the Jefferson County Farmland Protection Board.

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The higher the score, the higher rating the land will receive for possible protection, Donley said.

The money used to set up conservation easements can come from a variety of sources, including tax revenue and private organizations, Donley said.

Some Civil War groups offer up to $10 million a year for farmland protection and the Legislature recently gave counties the ability to increase the rate of a transfer tax to raise money for such protection, Donley said.

A property transfer tax is a tax that is generated when a piece of real estate is sold, said Donley, who said up to $500,000 a year could be generated in the county if the county passed a transfer tax increase.

Currently, the county receives about $4.40 per $1,000 of land value through the transfer tax, said Jefferson County Commission member Jane Tabb.

If the commissioners increase the transfer tax to the maximum allowable rate, the county would receive $6.60 per $1,000 of land value, said Tabb.

Tabb, a farmland protection board member who runs a dairy farm near Leetown, W.Va., with her husband, Cam, said she wants the commission to act on the proposal as quickly as possible.

The commission has to approve the plan before it can go into effect.

Donley said he expects the plan to be in place soon, with summer being the latest it would go into effect.

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