Casino split a windfall for county

CHARLES TOWN – Jefferson County has received a major cash windfall from Penn National Gaming’s recent split into a casino operations company and a real estate investment trust.

[cleeng_content id="570526470" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]Penn will pay just under $2 million in transfer taxes for the two properties, which were sold for more than $300 million – around 1/10 of the county’s gross assessed value for 2013.

Two thirds of that money will stay in the county, where it will be split between the County Commission’s general fund and the Farmland Protection Board. The other third will go to the state’s coffers.

The split has been beneficial for Penn’s stock price as well, pushing it near all-time highs despite the announcement earlier this month that it had missed analysts’ earnings projections by almost 10 percent, according to Investors Observer.

The transfer taxes paid on both properties totaled more than $1.99 million, with the bulk of that collected from the transfer of one property and the remainder — about $67,000 — collected on the sale of the other.

For the Farmland Protection Board, which is primarily funded through transfer taxes, the sudden revenue injection comes as a much-needed boon.

“This is a huge shot in the arm for farmland protection in Jefferson County,” said board member John Reisenweber. “It’s a huge infusion into the coffers.”

Reisenweber said the farmland protection program’s efforts had been hampered in recent years by a stale real estate market and sparse transfer tax totals.

“During the recession the taxes were way down, which made it more difficult to do farmland preservation easements,” Reisenweber said, adding that things have been improving. “Over the last several months, that monthly allocation has increased.”

Farmland Protection Board President Liz McDonald said the tax revenue, leveraged with Department of Agriculture funds as well as landowner donations, will enable Jefferson County to set aside about 600 acres of farmland for future generations.

“It’s a huge impact on our program,” McDonald said. “It’s the biggest chunk of anything we’ve collected in a while.”

The Farmland Protection Board uses funds raised through the transfer tax to gain dollar-for-dollar matching grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They use these grants to purchase from farmers permanent easements that ensure that their land can only be used for farming.

“The logic behind it is, the more transfers you have the more pressure there is on farmland, so the transfer tax goes to protect farmland,” Reisenweber explained. “It has primarily been helpful in growth counties where there were lots of transfers, at least prior to the recession.”

The tax payment is also a major windfall for the County Commission. Its portion of the tax revenue is around $200,000, more than had been projected to collect in transfer taxes for the whole year in its 2013-2014 budget.[/cleeng_content]

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