Thursday, September 08, 2016

Idle farmland costs N.M. owners big in taxes; some states address issue with open-space laws

Louis Romero faces a huge tax spike because his land
is no longer farmed. (Taos News photo: Katharine Egli)
Farmland that is sitting idle—typically because aging farmers have no one to use or take it—is losing agricultural status in New Mexico, and landowners are being hit with large tax bills, J.R. Logan reports for The Taos News.

Property that was once used for agriculture, even if it isn't anymore, has long enjoyed tax breaks in most states. But in 2013 the Taos County assessor's office began cracking down on idle farmland, finding that about half of the 1,000 parcels it inspected were no longer in production. That led many landowners to lose farm status, leading to tax bills going up an average of 143-fold.

"As the reassessment continues, many locals fear that jacking up taxes on arable land will force longtime owners off their land," Logan writes. "If that land, once sold, is subsequently developed rather than farmed, it could spell the end of a centuries-old farming tradition that's at the center of the region's cultural identity."

"The trend isn't unique to New Mexico," Logan writes. "Across the West, old farm and ranch owners have been pushed out as development overtakes rural areas. But some states have taken steps to protect farmland—even unproductive properties—from development."

One solution could be open-space laws, such as ones in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Texas and Washington, Logan writes. Under Washington's Open Space Taxation Act, "an owner makes a formal application with their county commission or town council asking for an open space classification. Inspectors grade a property using 25 separate categories that include attributes like aquifer protection, wildlife habitat, and allowing public access. If approved, the land can be valued as low as land that meets the standards of active agricultural land—sometimes just $1 an acre. The owner must agree to keep the land undeveloped for at least 10 years, or face back taxes and an additional penalty." (Read more)

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