Letter to the Editor: Urge supervisors to act to keep county rural
On Tuesday, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors will decide whether to take the next step in securing the vision of our county’s comprehensive plan: to secure its future as a primarily agricultural and rural community.
For more than 10 years, residents have said and continue to say they want farmland protected to preserve the county’s distinctive rural characteristics and agricultural economic base — not just now but for future generations. Supervisors listened and adopted policies, such as the Community Planning Project recommendations, supporting land conservation and balanced growth.
On Tuesday, supervisors will decide whether to designate a nominal amount of permanent funding from rollback tax receipts to the Conservation Easement Authority. Unbudgeted and unpredictable from year to year, rollback taxes are generated when a landowner converts their land from farming or forestry to a more intensive use. It seems fitting funds generated when farm and forested land is lost should be available to help preserve other prime farm or forested land. Expecting all property owners of eligible land to merely donate conservation easements is not realistic. Fortunately, a relatively small amount of local funding for securing voluntary conservation easements can be increased five-fold, or more, through state, federal, and private funds. But the essential first step is the allocation of local government funds.
Permanent land conservation saves taxpayers in the long run. It will not raise taxes nor take monies from the county’s budget. In fact, it is just the opposite. For each dollar generated in taxes from farmland, a county typically pays only 37 cents in services compared to $1.19 for rural residential development. It is well documented that when farmed and forested lands are preserved and new housing channeled into existing towns, taxpayers benefit from significantly lower costs for public services, such as schools, utilities and roads.
Farmland lost now is lost forever. Please join us in asking our elected officials to take this next important step toward keeping Shenandoah County rural, keeping taxes low and ensuring our county preserves the backbone of our economy — its farmland.
Seth Coffman, chairman, Shenandoah Forum