At its Sept. 4 meeting, the Caswell County Commissioners endorsed a resolution in opposition of House Bill 320, an action taken by the North Carolina General Assembly earlier this summer to expand the types of land that can qualify for present-use value taxation as wildlife conservation land. The legislation has been passed and enacted, and will affect fiscal year numbers for the state in next year’s (2019-20) budget.
“This is expanding the number of acres from 100 acres to 800 acres that an individual can claim,” County Manager Bryan Miller said in explaining House Bill 320 to the elected officials.
The bill, which originated out of Graham County, extends exemptions not just to conservation lands, but private lands used for hunting. It in essence creates a new tax-deferred status for owners of large tracts of wildlife acreage.
“There are a number of deferred tax statutes on the books now. For instance, if you’re operating in agricultural use, within certain limits you enjoy tax-deferred status on that property. The same if your property is for forestry management. What this bill 320 does is take an existing tax exemption for properties that is in certain wildlife protection areas, and expands it.”
“Right now, there’s currently an exemption for certain acreage that is used for protection of wildlife, either as a special habitat, or there’s a preservation effort going on on a piece of property. What this bill does is expands the exemption to not only wildlife conservation lands, but to lands that are used that are regularly used as a preserve for hunting, fishing, shooting, wildlife observation, or wildlife activities. So essentially it creates a new tax exemption - a deferred tax status, if you will - for property that’s used for hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, that hasn’t existed under state law before.”
Critics of House Bill 320 suggest that the legislation will result in loss of tax base in rural areas that are already hurting by a lack of industry and population decline. Wealthy landowners will now be able to deem significant chunks of their property as wildlife conservation land, which will defer their tax obligations and stifle tax revenue collection.
For a county like Caswell, it could result in a significant decrease in tax revenues, which is why the local leaders expressed opposition to the legislation.
“There has to be some kind of underlying motive. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what the underlying motive is,” Commissioner Chair Nathaniel Hall said.
The Commissioners unanimously approved the resolution opposing the bill.