A land plan that makes sense

Published 5:13 pm Wednesday, March 28, 2007

By Staff
Beaufort County commissioners sometimes make us shake our heads.
A great many readers likely just uttered the word “amen” in unison.
God bless ’em; sometimes some of our county leaders seem as though they’re way off in left field. Other times, we wonder if they’re even on the field.
Sometimes, they take topics that should last three minutes and make them last an hour. Residents who have sat in on the meetings — or simply turned on the tube — know whereof we speak. They’ve seen it happen.
But there are those shining moments when our county leaders really are just doing the people’s business and doing it smartly, without any hemming and hawing. One such moment happened recently when Beaufort County commissioners had a noble, not-a-moment-too-soon idea to seek tax relief for longtime property owners.
They don’t know all the specifics yet, but commissioners intend to put Beaufort County on a bill that provides tax breaks to the folks who have lived, played and worked here for years.
That could mean that they tack onto a bill that includes Onslow County, a fellow coastal county whose longtime residents are feeling the property-tax pinch. It could mean that they seek a local bill specific to Beaufort County. It could mean they throw their hats in the ring with a statewide bill that includes relief for rural counties in the North Carolina mountains.
Deatherage’s proposal was targeted toward residents who own waterfront property, including commercial fishermen who operate near the water. But Commissioner Ed Booth rightly said relief should apply to any longtime property owner — even if his or her property isn’t near the water. Demand for waterfront property does have a ripple effect on not-so-waterfront property, after all.
The tax break commissioners proposed would be available to residents who have owned land here for at least 25 years. The break might apply to no more than 2 acres, down from the originally proposed 5 acres.
Commissioners’ Chairman Jay McRoy was concerned about letting the limit apply to too much land. “We don’t want people to be taking advantage of this in the wrong way,” he said.
That makes sense, too. This tax break isn’t about giving residents who can pay their fair share a free ride.
If longtime residents decided to sell the lesser-taxed land, the county could go back 10 years and recover its actual tax value, per the plan they discussed.
It’s a smart idea — and one that should be pursued before the proverbial horse is out of the (family-owned) barn.