-January 20, 3004







Cows and corn are part of the cultural heritage of Fauquier County.  The rural landscape of the County is being changed by external market demands that convert open space land to rural subdivisions.  Scattered sub-urban development is not part of the cultural heritage of Fauquier County.  Cows and corn are tax positive land uses.  Scattered residential development is a tax negative land use.  At the current real property tax rate ($.92), a lot and residence valued at $700,000 will not generate enough real property tax dollars to educate one child for one year in the local public school system.  More scattered houses outside of designated growth areas (service districts) will only exacerbate the fiscal dilemma of this County as we try to provide quality schools and other local government services.


Every rural development right (i.e. the right to build a dwelling unit) that is permanently extinguished through a purchased or donated conservation easement is a validation of this County’s rich cultural heritage and it also constitutes future governmental cost avoidance.  Not all landowners are in a position to donate a conservation easement.  Farming is not dependably profitable and part of a farmer’s equity is the value of the land.  Purchase of development rights gives farmers some return on their land equity and it can provide funds for reinvestment into the farm operation.  It also removes a portion of the speculative value of land and may make land for farming more affordable for future farmers.  Again, this helps continue the cultural heritage that makes Fauquier County a very special place – an oasis in a sea of sprawl.


A Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program is also a wonderful investment for our public school system.  Too much population growth too fast can overwhelm school divisions and cause communities to lose their identity and sense of place.  Competing demands for scarce local tax resources will require the public school system to compete with other local government service providers for scarce resources.  The cost of public services to inefficient sub-urban human settlement patterns will cause tax rates to rise and long-term senior residents with fixed incomes will witness diminished quality of life because more and more of their limited personal resources will be required for more expensive public services.


A dedicated PDR tax ($.02 proposed) can help break the pernicious trend toward higher local taxes and lowered quality of life described above.  This modest proposal would make over $1,000,000 available on an annual basis to purchase development rights on tax positive agricultural lands.  No one would be forced to sell development rights.  This is a ‘property rights’ friendly voluntary transaction that represents a return of equity and a good investment of local tax dollars in avoidance of future public service costs.  This is not a NO GROWTH policy.  Fauquier County will continue to grow, but that growth will be channeled to the planned growth areas (service districts) where public services can be most economically provided.  The modest present dollar costs of this proposed program pale in comparison to the future public costs avoidance that the program yields.  This program should be viewed as a public investment in a more rational, efficient, and sustainable human settlement pattern.  It represents good public management and is consistent with the County’s public creed – ‘Progress with Reverence for Heritage’.