Recession, Sustainable Development may drive property taxes up

By Susan Gibbs

Greene County property taxes may be going up – if not this year, then next.

“I think we’re going to see a fairly good-sized reduction in overall assessed (real estate) values,” said Greene County Commissioner of Revenue Larry Snow. “Supervisors may have to adjust the levy in order to have enough money coming in to cover expenses.”

This, with a recession predicted and debates ongoing about how deep it will be and how long it will last.

The hope that it will not be deep and not last long lies with consumers, according to noted economist A. Gary Shilling.

“But they’re now embarking on a saving spree to replace their 25-year borrowing and spending binge. And there’s no other sector – government, the Federal Reserve, or the private sector – that can provide meaningful economic growth in the next year or so,” Shilling is reported to have said in an article dated January 3 and published by Moneynews.com.

Many of us know by now what caused the recession, thanks to countless reports: The die was cast in 2006 when housing prices started to decline, leading, over the next couple of years, to crisis as a result of increased foreclosure rates among U.S. homeowners.

But how many of us know that some experts are blaming the collapse of the housing bubble that led to the recession on a worldwide action plan called Agenda 21?

Agenda 21 was presented at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 and written into United States policy, then state policy, then regional policy, and finally, Greene County policy.

“At well over 300 pages, Agenda 21 sets forth hundreds of specific goals and strategies that national and local governments are encouraged to adopt,” according to an article published December 1, 2011 on the Web site belonging to The Heritage Foundation — a think tank consisting of at least 14 policy centers.

In a nutshell, Agenda 21’s goal is “sustainable development” – a term used to expound upon the position that human beings are destroying the Earth’s ecosystem. Agenda 21 policies call for action in every area in which humans directly affect the environment.

In keeping with Agenda 21 policies, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission – which provides “collaborative leadership” for Greene County, along with the City of Charlottesville, and the counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson — created the Thomas Jefferson Sustainability Council in 1994.

According to TJPDC’s Web site, “The Council addressed the areas of human population, basic human needs, economic development, transportation, land development, waste, values/ethics, community awareness, interdependence/balance, government, natural environment, and agriculture/forestry.

Over a four-year period … a mission statement, a delineation of the Principles which govern a sustainable community, and the Goals, Objectives, and Indicators and Benchmarks of a sustainable region were developed.

In 1998 TJPDC unveiled its Sustainability Accords, containing 15 objectives that included the distribution of the human population in ways that preserve vital resources and the retention of natural habitat, farm and forestland.

In 2010 those objectives seem to have become Greene County policy when board of supervisors approved its updated comprehensive plan – written in collaboration with TJPDC.

Greene’s Comprehensive Plan includes plans for the preservation of its natural habitat, farm and forestland and for the distribution of its human population.

For example, in keeping with those sustainable development, or “smart growth” policies, county planning commissioners recommended shrinking the county’s growth area to more compact areas.

But at what cost to its residents?

The Scheuermann family, owners of The Highlands Golf Park on U.S. 29 North in Ruckersville, had to hire an attorney to represent them when planning commissioners recommended the removal of their property from the growth area.

The family’s “property lends itself extremely well to nodal development,” John J. “Butch” Davies of Davies, Barrell, Will, Lewellyn & Edwards PLC, told supervisors, using one of the terms used to describe smart growth policies.

But Gretchen Scheuermann, who spoke to the Board on her family’s behalf, got to the heart of the matter:  “We’ve had a commercial business on that property for 13 or 14 years,” she said. ‘If we put the land up for sale we want to market it as a potential commercial property. My family has a lot invested in the land, and we rely on its value for our future.”

In the end, the Board did not follow the commissioners’ recommendation to remove that land from the growth area. Nor did it follow the commissioners’ recommendation to remove all of Carroll Morris’s land on U.S. 33 East – land that he had previously stated he hoped to develop.

The December 1 Heritage Foundation article warns that if implemented  the types of policies encouraged in Agenda 21 would, among other things, “impede development and economic growth.”

Still, Greene’s Plan calls for:  the revision of county ordinances so to utilize such tools as time-oriented division and/or adjustment of division rights; continued use of land use tax benefits;  the encouragement of voluntary programs that preserve open space, forests and natural resources; greater participation in  Agriculture and Forestal Districts; the encouragement of participation in land conservation programs; support of state programs that  will provide additional tools to manage residential growth; and the encouragement of state funding for land conservation.

But it doesn’t say how the county will be assisting developers in their efforts to establish the rooftops – otherwise known as human habitats – that will attract the commerce that will attract the consumers that will help keep Greene County property taxes in check.

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