Wythe County farmers nervous over increase in agriculture land use rates

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WYTHE COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ7) Farming is going to get a little more expensive in Wythe County, which some farmers fear could push agriculture business out of the area.

The County Commissioner of the Revenue Faye Barker announced she intends to slightly raise the land use assessment amounts for agricultural real estate during this year’s reassessment. Barker says she plans to increase the assessed value of agricultural land from $550 to $600 per acre.

“The $550 per acre assessed value has been in place since 2007 and we just feel that in order to keep up with inflation this is necessary,” the two-term Commissioner Barker said.

At the current tax rate, this increase will equate to less than a $0.25 increase in the total real estate taxes paid per acre on land currently listed in this program. That may not sound like much, but farmers who have hundreds of acres of land say it just adds to already high costs of industry.

Under the Virginia Land Use Program, commissioners of the revenue are given the power to assess real estate based on the “use value” instead of “fair market value” for certain lands used for agriculture.

Through this program, agricultural landowners who apply for and meet the qualifying requirements, have had their farmland receive a “use value” of $550 per acre, instead of a “fair market value” of approximately $3,000–$5,000 per acre assessed to pasture land, open land, and tillable land (or just agricultural land).

The Land Use Program provides a valuable tax savings to the agricultural community of approximately $900,000 a year in real estate taxes.

Raising the values by $50 may not seem too bad. But one Wythe County couple who owns about 10 acres of land said they can't afford any raise in taxes because they live off social security.

Another farmer, Charles Stroupe, said he wouldn't be so against the increase if he was able to make more money.

"Well it would be fine if our cattle was going up, but they're coming down all the time. If they're going to raise the price, they ought to consider how much we've got to spend of our profits," Stroupe said.

He said the industry has almost been cut in half in just a couple of years.

"Two years ago a tractor-trailer load of cattle was $100,000. Now it's $60,000. That's 50,000-pound loads," Stroupe said.

Another cattle farmer living in the area said it's getting harder and harder to farm with costs as they are. Stroupe fears higher costs, without the profits to support them, could close some farms.

"About all the dairy's went out, the hog farms is gone, the sheep farms are gone, there ain't nothing but cattle anymore and the prices keeps dropping on it so, eventually, we'll go out too," Stroupe said.

Stroupe, who's already paying $6,000 in taxes per year for his over 700 acres, said if they go up much more he may need to sell some of the land that's been in his family for decades.

Wythe County still prides itself on low taxes, despite this increase.

Neighboring Grayson County does not participate in the land use program and Bland County’s assessed land use value is set at $850.

By increasing Wythe County’s assessed land use value by $50, Commissioner Barker will make Wythe County’s value even with Carroll County’s land use rate of $600.