by Kate Shunney
Morgan County’s Farmland Protection program has a lot more money at their disposal to preserve agricultural and woodland space in recent months.
The program is funded in part by an Estate Transfer Tax collected by the County Clerk. Funds used to purchase conservation easements from this source are matched by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
With recent real estate transactions hitting their highest levels in close to a decade, Morgan County is seeing a consistent boost in that transfer tax.
According to documents that track the Farmland Protection revenue, Morgan County saw its highest transfer tax level in October 2020, with receipts of $38,410 that month. That’s the highest monthly receipt since the program began tracking the tax in April 2003.
Over 2020 and 2021 so far, transfer tax levels have ranged between $10,000 to $34,000 each month.
Those funds allow the Farmland Protection board to buy development rights from landowners, allowing the property owner to keep farming or protecting open space under their ownership, while compensating them for the agreement not to develop the land.
Since 2005, there have been 17 easements entered into the Morgan County Farmland Protection Program totaling 1,210 acres.
West Virginia started the Farmland Protection program in March 2000 “too address the loss of agricultural land and woodland as open-space land.”
The Morgan County Commission created the Morgan County Farmland Protection Board in June of that year.
Landowners interested in entering the property in the Farmland Protection Program have to apply for eligibility, based on land use and soil compositions.
They must be willing to agree to voluntary restrictions on land use that prohibit activities which would damage or interfere with an agricultural use of the land.
Those agreements, the value of conservation steps and other details are recorded
as a conservation easement that is attached to a property’s deed. Those agreements transfer to a new owner if the property changes hands.
Property owners can either sell or donate their development rights on qualifying land.
Applications can be submitted at any time. It takes approximately 18 months to two years to complete the application, approval and closing process, said Farmland Protection officials.
Locally, the Morgan County Farmland Protection Board is composed of seven members – all county residents.
Each member is a voting member, except for the Morgan County Commissioner, who shall serve in a non-voting, advisory capacity. All members are appointed by the Morgan County Commission.
The board, right now, is made up of these members:
1) One Morgan County Commissioner- Commissioner Joel Tuttle,
2) Executive Director of the Morgan County Development Authority- Lynn Goodwin,
3) One farmer who is a member of the Morgan County Farm Bureau- Kory Harmison,
4) One farmer who is a member of the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District- Lin Dunham,
5) One farmer who need not be a member of any farm organization- Vince Kesecker,
6) One county resident who is not a member of the foregoing organizations- Daryl Cowles,
7) One county resident who is not a member of the foregoing organizations- Stefanie Allemong.
The Morgan County Farmland Protection Board typically meets the second Monday of the month in the County Commission Meeting room.
“For all of us, farmland preservation plays an important part in keeping West Virginia green and prosperous. Preserved farmland protects our water and soils, provides us with an abundance of locally grown farm products, helps communities manage growth and maintain attractive landscapes and sustains our connection to the land and longstanding agricultural traditions,” said local farmland officials. “For farm landowners, participation in the Farmland Protection Program means a stronger land base to support West Virginia’s agricultural industry, the satisfaction of knowing family land will forever be preserved as farmland.”
Anyone interested in additional information about the application process can contact the Board Director, Ginger Johnson at 304-582-8125 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org. can The county website has a farmland protection page.