Land use ordinance debated
Published 5:48 pm Thursday, June 20, 2019
An ordinance to potentially remove forest land as a category eligible for special assessment did not move forward as a public hearing during a meeting by the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors on June 11.
The hearing was initially anticipated for June 11, but County Administrator and Attorney Vivian Seay Giles said the hearing could not proceed because public notices for the hearing were not advertised as required by statue and were not forwarded to The Herald.
District Five Supervisor Parker Wheeler, after consideration and speaking with residents in the county, asked and made a motion that the board not set a public hearing concerning the ordinance.
District Four Supervisor and Chairman David Meinhard made a substitute motion that the board does set a public hearing on the ordinance for the board’s July 9 meeting.
District Three Supervisor Kevin Ingle and Meinhard voted in favor of the motion. Wheeler and District One Supervisor William “Bill” Osl voted in opposition. District Two Supervisor Lloyd Banks abstained.
Giles said the motion did not pass, meaning that a public hearing is not scheduled to take place for the special assessment. The Robert’s Rules of Order, used in parliamentary procedures, cites that because a tie vote is not considered a majority vote, a motion with a tie vote fails.
Cumberland Commissioner of the Revenue Julie Phillips said in a Tuesday interview that the total deferred amount for forest land use in Cumberland County, based on 2019 figures, is $434,530.
The total amount deferred for agricultural land use in the county, based on 2019 figures, is $250,571. Phillips said the total of these two uses is $685,102. In the event that forest land use or agricultural land use is removed, the $434,530 or $250,571 could be revenue for the county.
However, this decision could come with potential consequences, Phillips said, as the purpose of the land use program is to conserve land in the county.
Repealing the land use tax for forest has been a subject of discussion in the county in the past. Removing this use was brought up last year when considering the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018-2019 budget.
The land use allows agricultural land or forests to defer a portion of their taxes.
Ingle, during the board member comment period, said the land use program is one incentive used to bring industry to the county and create jobs.
“That is something that we did to try to encourage large business to come in,” Ingle said.
Referencing a comment made by resident Ronald Tavernier during the public comment period, Ingle said there are forest industries in the county that see benefits as a result of the land use. Ingle said the industries in turn benefit the county through providing jobs. Ingle said American Timberland is an example of a forestry business that has provided services to the county, and cited that he and the owner are friends.
“I’m just defending a business that is actually providing a big service for Cumberland County,” Ingle said.
Osl made the argument that agriculture and forestry are among the largest economic bases in the county, and spoke about regional and state literature concerning information about the cost-saving benefits of agricultural and forest land in localities compared with residential land use.
Phillips said Tuesday that there are 613 parcels in the county that encompass the forest land use, and there are 239 landowners that participate in the forest land use program.
For agriculture, there are 373 parcels that make up the land use, and 179 landowners.
Phillips said of the total 344 landowners involved in these two programs, there are 79 landowners that use both the forest and agricultural land use.
There are 155 parcels that are used both for forest and agriculture.
Phillips said of the 344 total landowners, 200 are residents of Cumberland County. Because the land use program is a state program, she said landowners do not need to be residents of the county in order to participate.
Wheeler asked what would happen if forest was removed from land use.
“Do away with land use, and it’s going to be one of the biggest tax increases in the history of Cumberland County, I guarantee it,” Osl said. “And put private owners and farmers out of business. If that’s what you want, to retain a rural community, then that’s part of what we do as part of our comprehensive plan … this would put a devastating impact on a very narrow profit-margin business.”
Before the board went into closed session, Meinhard said he expected the public hearing to be shot down. He argued that the special assessment prevented hundreds of thousands of dollars from being paid to the county each year.
“That is a lot of money that this county could have done a lot of things with,” Meinhard said. “We are having a minority agriculture and forestry riding on the backs of every other tax payer in the county.”