Boykins mayor proposes killing land-use tax break on timberlands

Published 11:49 am Saturday, May 19, 2012

COURTLAND—Boykins Mayor Spier Edwards on Monday, May 21, will propose that Southampton County supervisors eliminate the land-use tax on timberlands.

“That would generate about $1.4 million,” Edwards said Friday.

He will speak during a 7 p.m. public hearing at Southampton High School on the county’s proposed $52.6 million budget, which calls for each household paying an annual $200 garbage fee. The fee is expected to generate $1.34 million.

Edwards and the county’s other five mayors are opposed to the fee and met Thursday night to come up with a plan to fight it. Other mayors are Keith Joyner in Ivor, Preston Futrell in Branchville, Danny Williams in Courtland, Harvey Porter in Newsoms and Nick Kitchen in Capron.

Southampton County is one of 74 counties among the state’s 95 with a land-use taxation program. Farmland of more than five acres and forestland of more than 20 acres qualify.

More than 2,300 properties are enrolled.

A property qualifies as either farmland, open space or timberlands.

Under the program, the owner of a 249-acre farm with cropland pays $1,167. Without the program, that same farmer would pay $4,669.

Edwards said that 723 of the parcels in the land-use program are timberlands. Most are owned by outside companies or individuals.

“I think it would be a bombshell, but the mayors and I feel like this would be a way of generating the money rather than putting the burden on the citizens of the county,” Edwards said.

Berlin-Ivor District Supervisor Ronnie West favors Edwards’ idea, assuming it’s legal.

“If indeed we can do that legally — singling one group out for higher taxes than the other — I would favor that,” West said.

“Most of these are timber tracts that belong to large businesses. I know it’s a business, but they are in it for raising crops, the timber. I think they should share more of the burden.”

Jerusalem District Supervisor Dr. Alan Edwards said he doesn’t know if one section of the land-use can be eliminated.

“I think it’s all or nothing as it applies to your county,” Edwards said.

He favors the land-use tax program.

“It allows farmland to continue to be used. The land doesn’t generate rescue squad bills or trash bills. It’s the most reasonable, fair tax that there is in Virginia,” he said.

Franklin District Supervisor Barry Porter doesn’t believe it can be “fixed” that easily.

“To change the land-use, there’s a process you have to go through. You have to have public hearings,” Porter said.

He noted the timber industry has struggled since the closing of International Paper in Franklin in 2010.

“A lot have gone out of business,” Porter said. “This would put more stress on it.”

County Administrator Mike Johnson said the option has not been explored and he had no opinion on it.