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County May Be Overtaxing Wetlands, Lawmaker Says

January 19, 2012

By Leah Small
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Some Caroline County residents might be paying too much in property taxes because of inaccurate assessment of land values, a state legislator has suggested.

Delegate Robert Orrock, R-Thornburg, said he has heard reports that wetlands, which should be assessed at $500 an acre, are being recorded on Caroline County’s tax rolls as productive farmland and valued at $750 an acre.

He is proposing legislation that would help landowners in appealing assessments they believe are incorrect. Orrock represents the 54th House District, which includes parts of Caroline and Spotsylvania counties. He has served in the Virginia House of Delegates since 1990.

Orrock said he has received “anecdotal evidence” that in Caroline County, the commissioner of the revenue recognizes only about half of the land that the federal government classifies as wetlands according to the National Geological Survey. The commissioner of the revenue annually assesses property for tax purposes.

To address such inconsistencies in Virginia, Orrock is sponsoring House Bill 80. It would require local assessing officials to “specially and separately assess” lands classified as wetlands if landowners appeal their initial assessment.

After the property is assessed for the second time, the commissioner of the revenue or other assessing official must record the revised fair market value of each tract. Virginia residents already have the right to appeal assessments to their local board of assessors.

Orrock said the purpose of his bill is to create “a mechanism where the landowner can appeal to the board of assessors and say, ‘I have wetlands and you don’t have to take my word for it, but the National Geological Survey has done a survey of every inch of land in the country and has designated these lands are wetlands.’ … That becomes the arbiter.”

He said he filed HB 80 because of a specific “locality that does not recognize the [National] Geological Survey maps in recognizing wetlands.” Orrock declined to name the specific locality. Asked if it was Caroline County, he said, “It could be.”

Orrock said it’s not just about the money. “It’s a fairness issue.”

Three members of Orrock’s family own property through a trust that he says “could be affected.” Orrock himself owns a 155-acre parcel that he said would not be affected.

HB 80 has been referred to the House Finance Committee.