An Oct. 17 letter, "Purchase of Development Rights is an inefficient way to preserve land," questioned the value of Shenandoah County's investment in protecting working farmland.
Land protection programs are proven strategies to keep a county rural, strengthen agriculture (hallmarks of our comprehensive plan) and maintain lower taxes. Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Matt Lohr said it best at a Shenandoah Forum event in April: "The more steps we can take today to protect the land for agriculture, the better off the industry and our society will be."
Development of a strategic purchase of development rights program for working farms was vetted through a series of public meetings as part of the Community Planning Project, and determined by citizens and county officials as one of several tools for preserving our agricultural base.
Using the program was not invented in Shenandoah County --- 22 local jurisdictions have such programs.
Without an effective program, a farmer has one option to realize his land value ---sell it for the highest price and give up farming. These programs provide another option for farming families to realize the value in their land while farming it. These programs are not limited to a favored few, as asserted in the Oct. 17 letter, but are intended for the preservation of agricultural lands deemed valuable regardless of landowner wealth.
Given tremendous opportunities to leverage private, state and federal funding sources, a strategic Purchase of Development Rights program is a bargain considering future costs to the county for developed land in rural areas. Due to the diligent work of county staff and the Conservation Easement Authority in securing matching funds, each dollar of county rollback tax revenue given to the conservation easement program this year was matched by $9 in outside funds.
The county's investment now to protect our most productive working lands will be offset in the future by the long-term strength of our agriculture community -- impacting economic development, lowering taxes because providing services to new homes around our towns is less expensive than in rural settings--- contributing to the county's general well-being for the next generation.
Seth Coffman, Chairman, Shenandoah Forum