Pilots decry tax increase, farmers defend land use taxation program

Published 1:00 pm Thursday, April 7, 2016

Pilots who own planes and fly out of the Farmville Regional Airport and farmers who own land across Cumberland decried a proposed increase in the personal property tax on airplanes and an alternative budgetary option of eliminating the county’s land use taxation program on Tuesday.

Seven people spoke in opposition to increasing the tax on airplanes from 50 cents per $100 of assessed value to $1.50 — an increase incorporated into the county’s advertised fiscal year 2016-17 budget proposal — during a board of supervisors’ public hearing.

Seven people also spoke against elimination of the county’s land use taxation program, which was presented, not as a recommendation, but as an alternative for increased revenue to supervisors during County Administrator Vivian Seay Giles’ budget presentation before the public hearings. During her budget presentation to the public, she said that the general fund balance had been declining and the tax revenues were “insufficient at present.”

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The Farmville Regional Airport is located in southern Cumberland and houses about 26 airplanes. Several pilots said that the increase would result in them moving their planes and, as a result, the county losing revenue.

Many farmers across the county have their property enrolled in Cumberland’s land use taxation program — one that allows the county to assess the land at its value of particular use, rather than using the traditional assessment of real estate. Only two of the four land use categories have participation in Cumberland: agricultural and forestry, according to Giles.

The proposed $30.6 million budget includes no other tax increases, other than the increase on the personal property tax rate on airplanes. The budget includes a 14 percent increase on utility rates and fees for users of the county’s sewer and water system.

The increased airplane tax could bring in about $10,000 more annually.

Pilot Morgan Dunnavant said that if the tax rate on planes is increased, the pilots would be “like a pile of sparrow birds,” leaving and not returning. “It will be more loss than it is gain (for Cumberland),” he said.

Jim Wills

Jim Wills

Jim Wills, a pilot and spokesman for Friends of the Farmville Airport, said that the airport was “essential to this area,” adding that the tax increase was “not good for the airport. It’s not good for Cumberland County.”

David Abrams, who said he’d been flying out of the airport for about two years, said the tax increase was “uncalled for,” and said, if approved, he was willing to leave the airport.

“I’ll be obligated to move it,” said pilot David Wood of his relocating his airplane to another airport if the county approved the tax increase.

Following the hearings, District Three Supervisor Kevin Ingle said that the county would be better off leaving the airplane tax rate “as is.”

“Right now I’m still in limbo,” District Five Supervisor Parker Wheeler said during a previous interview when asked about the recommended increase on the personal property tax for airplanes. During the meeting he said he favored the equalized real estate tax rate of 78 cents following the most recent reassessment.

Parker Wheeler

Parker Wheeler

Though not a recommendation, nor incorporated into the proposed budget, Giles noted the elimination of the land use taxation program as an alternative way to increase revenues for the county.

Former supervisor and current Planning Commissioner Hubert Allen said that if the board eliminated land use taxation, it would “sever the backbone of the the county,” which he described as farming and agriculture. He said that elimination of the program could allow for increased housing developments, which would increase expenditures for the county and could allow for the loss of farm jobs.

Kevin Ingle

Kevin Ingle

Guy Hazelgrove called the land use program a “valuable lifeline” for the farmers. “It’s got to be give and take,” said farmer Robert Womack, who spoke in opposition to the program being eliminated.

“I haven’t seen anything that says that’s going to change,” said District Two Representative and Board Chairman Lloyd Banks regarding land use taxation. He said the issue had come up every year he’s served on the board.

Lloyd Banks

Lloyd Banks

Several members of the public, including school board members and Division Superintendent Dr. Amy Griffin, spoke in favor or the requested school budget, which proposes the county provide an additional $150,000 in local funding for the division in the next fiscal year. The advertised county budget calls for level funding for the public schools in local money, allocating $3.8 million.

On April 12, the board could adopt the budget during its regular meeting at 7 p.m.