Bob Bestler

Tree farm blooms into tax break

Dear Gov. Sanford:

A few years ago I purchased some property in Beaufort County. I bought it with the intent of turning it into a residential development.

No, it wasn't going to be some big old condo development. I wasn't interested in building something grande, if you get my point.

My total purchase came to less than a half-acre, and my plan was develop the property into a single-family residence for me and my wife and my dog and my cat.

Well, one thing led to another, and I have since put off any development of the land. So now it sits, empty, producing absolutely no income, not a single penny.

Some would view my property as an empty lot in serious need of bushhogging. I like to think of it as a kind of tree farm because of all the trees on it. Shoot, I think it has more trees, inch for inch, than a lot of the tree farms we see right around here in Horry County.

And that's why I'm coming to you, Governor.

I'm paying pretty steep taxes on my little, uh, tree farm, but it's my understanding that the good old boys who run South Carolina have determined that tree farmers have to pay about $1 an acre in taxes. Wow. That's like almost nothing.

Now, I don't have a whole office full of tax lawyers like some of those big developers, but even I have been able to figure the kind of tax savings I should be receiving from my little, uh, tree farm.

It's only .38 of an acre and taxing it at $1 an acre would mean my annual tax bill ought be 38 cents instead of the $1,245.43 I recently paid.

Feel free to have your finance officer check my math, but as I see it, that would mean a tax savings of $1,245.05 - money I could invest in other S.C. enterprises, such as greens fees at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island or Harbour Town at Hilton Head Island. A win for me, a win for South Carolina.

I'll be honest, Governor. As a really small land developer, I don't have a lot of connections. I learned about this particular scam, er, tax loophole only last week.

Everybody says it's perfectly legal, even my own state representative - and especially if the land has never been used for any other purpose than a tree farm. That fits my .38-acre piece of farmland to a T.

I know you've always tried to be a champion of the little guy. I hope that includes the little developer. And I sure hope that you, as the top doggie in South Carolina, can help me get a refund on most of the taxes I've paid on my little, uh, tree farm.

Waiting to hear from you, I remain:

Bob, your humble constituent