County to Audit Property Owners Claiming Land-Use Exemption

Now that the county finds themselves in tight economic straits, they’re tracking down property tax scofflaws, Brandon Shulleeta writes in today’s Daily Progress. Anecdotally, there are lots of folks getting land-use tax breaks who don’t actually qualify. But whether or not that’s actually true nobody can say just yet, so the county intends to look into it. Tax inspectors will be visiting properties of those deferring taxes on unimproved land, to see if they actually have the unimproved land they say they do. Folks who have been lying will owe back taxes. In the next couple of years the county intends to check out 5,000 properties, which could mean some new revenues for the county from people who aren’t paying their fair share.

8 thoughts on “County to Audit Property Owners Claiming Land-Use Exemption”

  1. It’s about time the landed gentry and faux farmers start playing by the rules the rest of us have to follow.

    Where have the County’s independent auditors been all these years? HELLO???? You’re supposed to look at things like this when you audit revenue numbers!!!

    So typical of Virginia. Lots of laws with NO ENFORCEMENT.

    Of course, the State says it’s up to the locals to enforce State laws. That isn’t how it works in other states.

    In other states, the State enforces State laws. The local governments are supposed to abide by State laws with the State checking to make sure they’re doing it.

    Virginia is so DUMB. Pass all sorts of laws that citizens rely on only to find out that there is no enforcement mechanism.


  2. They must be hard up for money more than we thought. They just sent me a decal fee bill for a Cadillac that is in storage and no longer displaying Virginia license plates. After the same conversations with them in 2007 and 2008, they know the car is in storage. I guess they spent postage to send a bill just to see if I would voluntarily pay it.

  3. I’m glad they’re revalidating this program, but the qualifications themselves are still full of loopholes. The biggest loophole is the “Forestry” qualification. This is the majority of the land under land use, and very little is actually being managed for timber.

    Yes, I like forests too, and I think it’s great to have incentives for people to have trees; however, land use was meant for agriculture. Also, what makes 10 acres of healthy managed forests less worthy of a tax break than 20 acres of Ailanthus? The county should have required a forest managment plan from anyone participating. A “letter of intent” seems pretty weak given the requirements to qualify for other forms of land use.

    They could have asked for receipts demonstrating expenses and investment in the forests. Just having a forest (that you can clearcut or develop at any time) shouldn’t be reason enough for such a significant tax break; one that effectively makes a half million dollar property owner pay the same tax rate (or less) than someone with five acres.

    Land use, as it stands, is not an agricultural subsidy at all, but rather a regressive tax against small landowners and urban residents. It’s ultimate effect has been to encourage speculative development of the rural area, artifical inflation of property values, and loss of farmland.

  4. So, this might bring in some tax revenue from those that don’t fight the process. But, there will still be a lot of people that get away with it. You see, there is no requirement under land use for making a profit from property under land use. There is no requirement for actually cutting down a tree for lumber or selling any thing grown on land under land use. All you have to say is that the forest is in a growth stage. You cannot be forced to cut down the trees at any point in time. You can also just grow grass. And every once in awhile, have someone cut and roll it. Leaving one or two of the rolls on the property. There is no requirement for doing this every year.

    I have considerable acreage where I live and I’m not taking advantage of land use. Why, because I’m not working the land, as of yet. When I do, I’ll consider it.

    The land use system needs to be updated to lessen the abuse. Land management plans that are enforced as contracts between the county and owner would certainly help.

  5. The Forest Use option is by far the most abused (and easiest to abuse) option under the Land Use taxation program. Getting into the Land Use program under the Agricultural or Horticultural option is significantly more difficult. Until the re-evaluation was implemented, once you were in the program you were golden.

    I’d like to see a whole revamping of the Land Use program;

    Working farms & forests under active management should definitely be eligible for a decent tax break. If you’re not producing anything or you just happen to have a wooded lot, you shouldn’t be eligible.

    At the same time, the Open Space option should be made available to land owners with smaller parcels (currently the minimum acreage is 20 acres in Albemarle although the state allows it to be as little as 5 acres) provided that they are willing to commit to preservation of the open space whether it be through a conservation easement to the county or enrollment in an Ag/Forest District or some other enforceable manor.

  6. My favorite tax break is the one you get for cows standing on your property. I always thought it was a joke but I have a friend who was actually bragging about it recently. The attitude seems to be that the government is stupid and why not take advantage of that if you can.

  7. Lisa, I believe the current rate is one cow per five acres, but those cows could probably move back and forth across several landowners property, and I suspect all would get the tax break as if they were their own cows.

    The thing that I think is flawed is that it is the guy with the land, not the “poor farmer” that gets the taxbreak. If you requred the tax benefit to go to the person cutting the hay, or who actually owns the cows, then you’d see that particular form of abuse disappear.

    That said, I’ve heard argumemts that say that there current program encourages land owners to lease property to farmers, and that is good for agriculture. I might agree with that. The problem is that it simultaniously inflates property values making it harder for farmers to actually own land themselves (which I feel is preferable).

    Another peculiarity of the program is that it is the person that changes the use who pays the back taxes. This means that if a farmer sells his farm to Wendell Wood, then Wendell is the one who pays the back taxes not the farmer. In other words, from the farmers perspective there’s no disincentive to sell to a developer, and from the developer’s viewpoint a few years of back taxes are nothing when creating a development like Biscuit Run.

    All together this means neither the incentive, nor the disincentive, really do much to keep farmland from becoming subdivisions.

  8. well you don’t get the tax break for horses (unless you run a related business). The state considers them pets.

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