Property owners with fresh-cut pine on their plots and timber harvesters alike will be affected by a Liberty County Board of Commissioners decision to revive a 2010 timber operations ordinance that had gone by the wayside.
Commissioner Marion Stevens Sr. revived the topic during the commission’s February retreat after the board was briefed on declining revenues.
“This can be something that’s hard to police, and people are harvesting,” Chairman Donald Lovette said.
Tax Commissioner Virgil Jones and Chief Appraiser Glenda Roberts primed the board Thursday about the ordinance, which was adopted in 2010.
“The way we determine who to bill and what to bill is, basically, we can only bill what we receive from the companies that harvest the timber,” Jones said, showing a tax commissioners’ form that property owners are supposed to fill out and give to timber companies.
To determine the taxes owed on a timber sale, the millage rate is applied toward 100 percent of the proceeds, Roberts said Friday.
“I don’t know that anyone is really policing timber companies, property owners, and anybody cutting, selling, harvesting timber,” Jones said.
In the last 10 years, the county is at around a 99 percent timber tax collection rate for the sales that were reported. Due to the millage rate, the activity only generates about $190,000 each year on the entire county digest, though between $5 million and $6 million in timber sales take place each year.
Roberts said her office tries to keep track by photographing the plots that have been harvested and later comparing the proceed reports with the documented photographs. That method cannot encompass land that is inaccessible to the public or woodlands that are not visible from the roads, however.
Commissioner Connie Thrift asked whether there is any type of permitting process for the work.
That triggered talk of the ordinance, which Roberts said she was not aware of.
“I’ll be brutally honest with you, I was not aware that there even was a timber ordinance,” Roberts said, adding that one of her staff members brought it to her attention. “There actually is an ordinance that was passed by the commissioners back in 2010.”
County Administrator Joey Brown said the ordinance originally was enacted to protect public roads from damage from timber trucks, but it does require notice prior to a harvest.
“If we were to adhere to it, we would probably receive a lot more revenue,” Jones said.
Later, Brown suggested the county increase its enforcement of the rule and reach out to timber companies and property owners who have histories of harvesting timber to remind them about the reporting requirements.
The ordinance contained a prior notice requirement for each tract to be harvested in the unincorporated county areas.
Notice must be given to the public works department, which is supposed to inspect the point of access to the public road from the tract described. Should the public works director find that the work poses likelihood of damage to any public rights-of-way, a $50,000 surety bond may be required.
The harvester also is required to post signs in each direction of access onto the road. One is 1,000 feet away stating “Warning: logging operations ahead,” and the other, 500 feet away, shall state “Slow truck entering highway.”
The ordinance gives the county authority to stop any harvest operation that does not adhere to the provisions.
Further, anyone who violates provisions of the ordinance “shall be guilty of a misdemeanor prosecutable in the Magistrate Court of Liberty County” with a $500 maximum fine and up to 12 months county imprisonment.
The board also adjourned into executive session to discuss a legal matter and land acquisition. They did not take action after the closed session.