By Ron Jenkins
Jenkins is executive director of the Virginia Loggers Association.
Relief from personal property and tools & machinery taxes are granted through a process involving approval of the General Assembly and then by the governor signing a bill into law. The process requires a lot of help from people and associations but once approved the law gives counties the option to exempt these taxes. As of July 1, 2020, an amendment to the law now allows counties to exempt these taxes on forest harvesting and silvicultural equipment. Five counties have already amended their ordinance to exempt these taxes on loggers.
Virginia Loggers Association led the way and was fortunate to have the full support of Virginia Farm Bureau, Virginia Forestry Association, Virginia Forest Products Association, Virginia Agribusiness Council, and Virginia Association of Counties. Delegate Leslie Adams representing House of Delegates District 16 wrote and championed a House Bill 1021 through the General Assembly 2020 session.
Loggers are the key to harvesting and hauling unrefined/raw forest materials from forests to mills who make essential paper and wood products used in our homes and businesses. Loggers are your neighbors and friends who form family – owned businesses to make it all happen. Loggers take the brunt of poor economies as they lose the markets which they depended upon for their sustainability. COVID-19 virus only added more misery to the weaker timber markets. Their jobs are considered one of the most dangerous jobs in America and yet many of these are third and fourth generation family owned businesses who love what they do every day.
Equipment used in the harvesting of trees is single-use and solely used in logging. They cannot be used for other commercial purposes such as heavy construction. The equipment approved from personal property taxes are only the machines used to cut, drag, chip, and load trees from forests. All the equipment is non-titled. This new law provides counties with an important tool. By exempting personal property and machinery & tools taxes on forest harvesting equipment, our leaders ensure loggers are more likely to sustain their businesses and pass them down to the next generation.
The new addition to the state law deals exclusively with tree crops grown for essential wood and fiber products. Commercial forest harvesting usually involve larger parcels of land where all mature trees are removed and those which remove only some of the trees (thinning & timber stand improvements).
Operations not in the new law include those engaged in the removal of individual trees around residences. The new law also does not apply to commercial land clearing company equipment.
Virginia forests are mostly owned by private citizens who wisely manage their forests with the assistance of loggers, forestry consultants, and industry, and the Virginia Department of Forestry. Following most harvests, these landowners reforest their land and prepare for the next crop of trees. By making this exemption possible for loggers, County leaders are also helping to ensure forest landowners retain their forests in forests for future generations and insure an uninterrupted steady supply of essential products. Harvesting is also essential in the growth cycle of healthy forests.
Virginia’s forest products industry is the third largest industry in the Commonwealth adding $21 billion to the economy and over 100,000 jobs. Businesses engaged in our fiber and wood products are subject to the normal business challenges plus the unpredictable nature of weather, insects, diseases, and many land options available to them. Investing in our forest community and strong businesses is our best hedge to insure we have the essential products provided by our forests.
Loggers are grateful to counties who realized that their loss in annual revenue exempting personal property and machinery & tools taxes on forest harvesting equipment is very small compared to the investment they are making in our future forests.
The logging community of family-owned logging businesses are grateful to Alleghany, Pittsylvania, Goochland, Highland and Rockbridge counties for their understanding and their commitment to these business owners.
We hope that all Virginia counties will follow these leaders and commit to exempt personal property and tools & machinery taxes on forest harvesting and silvicultural equipment. Local leaders, loggers, citizens, forest products companies, and the Commonwealth of Virginia will continue to receive the benefits of well-managed forests. Healthy forests are dependent upon good markets and sustainable businesses which together sustain a great forest community.