LETTER- Land Use saves taxpayers money

Opponents continue to argue for abolishing or narrowing the Land Use Tax Program [May 22: "Rural-centric: Supes continue land use support"], claiming that the lower taxation of undeveloped land represents a subsidy to landowners. They also argue that $18.8 million in additional revenue would become available for the county if the Program were eliminated and taxes were then paid on the full value of undeveloped farms, woods, and other properties.

The subsidy is the other way around, so I would warn citizens to be careful what they wish for. Every unbuilt piece of property is paying more in taxes– $3.12 per dollar in received services– than a residential property which pays only 82 cent on the dollar.

Each new house costs all existing taxpayers more money to service it; with 1.85 average children per household to educate, the county loses over $13,000 beyond what it can collect in taxes, paid for by you and me through tax hikes. So, the stronger the tools are to keep land undeveloped, the less we all have to pay in taxes.

Conservation easements are voluntary and would remain so even if the Program were ended. Will farmers sign away their division rights in order to save a few thousand dollars a year in taxes? No. Farmers will instead sell pieces of their land (a form of insurance in the event of a catastrophe– not a housing development waiting to happen) to pay the higher taxes. 

It would take only one-third the number of landowners in the Program selling a single lot for the new tax losses from increased homebuilding to overwhelm the supposed $18.8 million windfall from ending the Program. We'd all lose– and not just money; the rural landscape would disappear even faster.

We can't afford to find out what Albemarle will become without keeping and enhancing the Land Use Tax Program. After it becomes unaffordable here, where are you going to move? This is the last stop.

Walter Koch