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Hearing draws transfer tax supporters

February 28, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Ten of the 11 people who spoke at a public hearing Thursday afternoon said they favor increasing Berkeley County's real estate transfer tax, with the additional money to be used for farmland preservation.

After listening to the comments, the Berkeley County Commission did not decide whether to increase the tax, despite a request by one man in the audience to do so.

Commission President Howard Strauss said a decision will be made at next week's commission meeting.

Currently, when a property is sold the buyer pays $4.40 per $1,000 of value. Commissioners are considering whether to raise the fee by another $2.20, for a total of $6.60.

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Although technically a tax, Bill Stubblefield said the idea could also be looked at in another way.

"I would view it more as an insurance policy," said Stubblefield, who spoke in favor of the increase. "You're seeking to assure that the quality of life ... will be preserved."

Not only will green space be saved, but water as well. "A county of concrete" will affect water supplies, along with the quality of life, Stubblefield said.

Wally Bishop, who said he favors the program, bought a farm off Tuscarora Pike about 40 years ago, when the landscape was much different.

"Everything was farmland. Now I'm surrounded by development," Bishop said. "There aren't very many of us left who have farms and want to keep them that way."

The only dissenter among those who spoke was David Hartley, who spoke as a representative of the Eastern Panhandle Homebuilders Association.

Although Hartley said he favors farmland preservation, he said a tax increase of $2.20 is too high. He said $1.10 would be more appropriate.

As an example, Hartley said, someone buying a $130,000 home would save $143 if the transfer tax was $1.10 rather than $2.20. That lower tax figure could help young home buyers or those on fixed incomes, Hartley said.

Commissioner Steve Teufel said he also wonders whether the tax should be increased by $2.20. Teufel, who formerly operated a pig farm, said he wants to ensure the farmland protection program is not overfunded.

"I think (the increase) could be 80 cents," Teufel said.

Lavonne Paden, with the Berkeley County Farmland Protection Board, said that even with little publicity, people are seeking to include around 1,000 acres into the program. All the extra money a $2.20 increase will generate could be used, she said.

Last week, the Jefferson County Commissioners voted 4-1 to increase the transfer tax there by $2.20. The tax increase will fund that county's farmland preservation program.

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