A citizen investigation by John Day into the office of Unicoi County Assessor of Property Patsy Bennett has resulted in the release of notices directing property owners enrolled in the Greenbelt property classification to comply with state handbook guidelines.
There are certainly people who are abiding by the rules and there are others who arent, and those are the ones I want to identify, Day said last week.
Through his year-long investigation initiated at the request of concerned citizens, Day said he found Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch and Unicoi County Attorney Doug Shults, who are enrolled in the Greenbelt forestry classification, had not filed a forestry plan.
The Agriculture, Forest and Open Space Act of 1976 is the legislature that governs the Greenbelt classification, which was enacted to protect farmers in rural areas from urban sprawl.
Guidelines for property assessors to manage Greenbelt classifications can be found in a handbook produced by the Comptroller of the Treasury, Division of Property Assessments.
The handbook states that in order for property to be considered forest land, a forest plan must be provided.
A forest management plan is required for land to qualify as a forest, the handbook states. But sometimes an owner may not have a forest management plan or has requested a plan but the plan is not yet completed at the time application is made. It has been the policy to permit owners to apply and be approved for forest land classification before a forest management plan has been completed or submitted.
But failure of the owner to submit the plan within three (3) years will cause the property to be disqualified as forest land and rollback taxes shall be due, the handbook also states.
After she sought advice from a lawyer through the states Division of Property Assessment and checked all the files in the forestry classification last week, Bennett said she is allowing those without a plan up to 65 days to comply.
For the remainder of this article please see the February 5, 2013 edition of The Erwin Record.