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Over 70 AFD Applications Filed For Land Tax Break

Applications for over 70 agricultural/forestal districts (AFDs) including approximately 38,000 acres met Friday’s deadline for inclusion in the special tax designation program that could result in the loss of $77,000 in county revenue.

County Administrator George Nester told supervisors during their meeting Monday night that projections indicate by the end of the year the county may have as much as 50,000 plus acres in the special districts that offer landowners a reduced tax assessment for their land in exchange for a commitment to limit its use to farm or timber operations.

“We’re still processing some of the applications, and just to give an estimation, we may end up having 50,000 plus acres to consider this first part of the year,” Nester said.

He estimated the economic impact of the AFDs would be a cost of approximately $77,000, noting these numbers are subject to change.
Zoning Administrator Robbie Love, whose office is coordinating the AFD applications, said Monday evening he had received over 20 applications on Friday, the deadline.

The minimum size of an AFD is 200 acres, which can represent a single individual holding or several landowners applying in a group for the designation.

The zoning administrator estimated around one-third of the applications came from landowner groups - those with tracts of land actively involved in farm or timber production.

Love said the newly appointed 10-member AFD Advisory Committee charged with overseeing applications for inclusion in the reduced tax rate districts will meet Thursday, Nov. 12.

Serving on that committee are eight at-large members including Carl Espy and Reynold “Buster” D’Amato, both of Halifax; Page Wilkerson and James Solomon, both of Alton; Henry Murray of Virgilina; Kevin A. Hodges of South Boston; and Ronnie Waller and Richard “Dick” Conner, both of Alton; along with ED-2 Supervisor Tom West and Commissioner of Revenue Brenda Powell.

Love said Wilkerson has been elected chairman and D’Amato vice-chairman.

Supervisors unanimously adopted the AFD enabling ordinance earlier this year in an effort to offer farmers and landowners a way to alleviate increasing real estate assessments and the resulting taxes.

Halifax County currently has 114,000 acres of farmland with agricultural production netting approximately $28 million in cash receipts annually with an economic impact totaling $110,896,000, according to 2002 USDA Ag Census figures.

The Virginia Department of Forestry estimates the forest industry in Halifax County contributes $134,581,304 directly, $40,392,300 indirectly, and $21,142,402 through induced effects.

Halifax has approximately 273,000 acres of forestland that accounts for an overall contribution to the county’s economy of $196,116,967 annually.

Combined, forestry and agriculture within Halifax County have an economic impact totaling $334,736,067, according to county officials.
A total of 77 out of 95 counties in the state, or 81 percent, have either land use or AFDs or both.

In a related action, supervisors set a public hearing for their Dec. 7 meeting on an ordinance that allows property included in an AFD to qualify for use value assessment as of Jan. 1 of the calendar year during which the ordinance was adopted.

“This is a reassessment year, and the intent is for those applicants who have applied as of this Nov. 1 deadline would have their property appraised based on the appraisal that was in effect for 2009. A new reassessment will take effect in January 2010, and this ordinance amendment will recognize that any property that made application within 180 days of Nov. 1 would be assessed based on the 2009 appraisal,” Nester explained.

In other action Monday night, supervisors approved two resolutions of commendation for John Wallace Coleman and James “Jimmy” Epps.
Coleman, who celebrated his 91st birthday on Oct. 6, was recognized as a lifelong resident of the county having served his country during WWII under the leadership of Gen. Douglas McArthur.

He also was recognized for providing outreach to his community during his 78 years as a church member and 44 years as a church deacon.
The father of 14 and a retired 26-year Westinghouse employee who returned to farming also was commended for devoting his time and energy to make the county “a better place to live for family, friends and other county citizens.”

Epps, also a county native and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) employee, has accepted a position with B & B Consultants and was recognized by supervisors for providing many hours of service to county citizens as the assistant residency administrator of the Halifax VDOT office.

In the resolution, supervisors expressed appreciation to Epps for his dedicated and faithful service to the citizens and extended best wishes to him in his new career.

Supervisors also approved an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) for the county in accordance with state disaster preparedness, plans and programs for mitigation of natural or man-made disasters.

The purpose of the plan, according to Nester, is to serve as a guide assigning responsibility and identifying resources for handling a significant emergency.

In addition, this document provides guidelines in requesting or providing assistance.

The EOP further identifies procedures and contact information for requesting assistance from both state and federal agencies and for requesting mutual aid assistance from other political subdivisions and other services like Red Cross.

According to Nester, this document needs to be reviewed regularly and amended to reflect changes in organizations and in laws related to emergency services and disasters.

The document will now become “the official playbook” in the event of a disaster or major emergency, Nester said, and will be disseminated throughout the county government including fire, emergency services and 911 as well as provided to other resources such as the local Red Cross, towns of South Boston and Halifax, Scottsburg and Virgilina.

In other action Monday night, supervisors endorsed Virginia Association of Counties’ (VACO) proposed legislative plan for the 2010 General Assembly which includes a number of significant issues that will affect Halifax County.

Nester summarized some of the significant issues which include the following:

• Aid to localities: VACO is requesting that the county be allowed to use the 2000 Census population statistics for determining state aid to localities since that data reflects a higher population count.

“Delaying the use of the 2010 Census until the 2012 biennium will allow us two years for the economy to stabilize and hopefully result in population growth to offset recent population losses,” Nester said.

• The Dillon Rule: Virginia is a Dillon rule state, Nester explained. “The basic premise of the Dillon rule is that local governments may only exercise those authorities specifically granted by the General Assembly. As a result, local governments are handicapped in making certain decisions as they must be approved by the General Assembly,” he said.

“This process takes an extraordinary amount of time to deal with problems that require General Assembly approval,” Nester added.
“Other states that have used the Dillon rule have begun to lessen the stranglehold that restricts decisions to be made locally. A lessening of the Dillon rule would hopefully allow local governments the authority to make these decisions without the expensive and often divisive process we use for referendum,” he added.

• Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness And Volunteer Recruitment And Retention: VACO is asking the state to return a larger percentage of federal funds to local governments to support public safety programs. VACO also is requesting that excessive regulatory requirements placed on emergency medical services and fire services be moderated. If the time intensive training requirements continue, Nester said volunteers will be unable to devote the required time.

“As a result we could lose a significant number of volunteers that will negatively impact our county citizens either by a reduction in service or an increase in taxes to fund paid staff,” the county administrator explained.

• Unfunded Mandates: VACO opposes unfunded state mandates.

According to Nester, VACO is recommending that if the state funding for a mandate is changed, that mandate should be suspended until full funding is restored.

“VACO opposes the shifting of fiscal responsibility from the state to localities for existing programs. This is one of the most serious problems confronting local governments,” Nester said.

• Education Funding: VACO supports full state funding for public education programs, including the Standards of Quality, teacher salaries, and retirement costs, the Standards of Accreditation, the Standards of Learning, incentives and categorical aid, and capital and maintenance support, Nester said.

“State education mandates should be relaxed if the state reduces general funding for public education,” he added.

• Water Supply Planning: VACO supports additional appropriations being made available to local governments to carry out water planning.
“This is important if local governments are to comply with the state mandate that water supply and drought management plans be developed and approved by the state,” the county administrator said.

• Equal Taxation Authority: VACO supports the state granting counties the same authority that cities and towns presently have which includes the authorization for counties to add excise taxes presently authorized for towns and cities.

“Equal taxing authority would allow counties authorization to implement cigarette tax, admission tax, transient occupancy tax and meals tax,” Nester said.

In other action Monday night, supervisors took the following actions:

• Heard a monthly report from Virginia Department of Transportation Residency Administrator J. D. Barkley II and passed a resolution adding Moore Avenue and Avondale Drive in the Webb Park subdivision to the secondary road system with the condition that the county administration work with partners such as the Halifax County Service Authority who may be willing to share the costs of moving the utilities, which is an expense the county will have to pay for the privately maintained road;

• Heard a report from the Fair Committee concerning the county staff overseeing the 100th anniversary of the Halifax County Fair next year and authorized staff to check into how other counties handle their fairs and report back at the joint meeting on Nov. 16;

• Approved a request from the Heritage Foundation to install a chain-link fence on the southwest portion of the fairgrounds where the tractor pulls are held on the condition that if an industrial prospect becomes interested in the property, the fence will be removed;

• Heard a report from the building and grounds committee that requested the county administrator to get bids on a restroom facility to be located at Edmunds Park; and

• Received a petition from Martha Davis of Nathalie containing 490 signatures of county residents who support the Four Forks Recycling center being located in the northern portion of the county on property owned by Wayne Guthrie, an issue that was tabled last month.
Following the open meeting of the board, supervisors went behind closed doors to discuss real estate matters, a prospective business or industry and to consult with legal counsel on actual or probable litigation but emerged taking no action.