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October 25, 2013

Local farmers welcome land tax cap

By Mark Boshnack Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Several people in the local farm community said legislation to cap agricultural land taxes recently signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo is helpful.

Cuomo signed legislation to cap such assessments at two percent per year, ensuring a more predictable tax climate for New York’s robust agricultural sector, according to a media release from Cuomo’s office. Previously, the annual change in the base agricultural assessment property value could not exceed ten percent.

Coupled with the previous two percent property tax cap, this landmark legislation will keep farmers on their lands and help them reinvest in their operations, according to the release.

Previously the assessment was based on soil type and set by the state, Delaware County Cornell Cooperative Extension educator Mariane Kiraly said. The best farmland was assessed at $999 an acre. All levels have increased about 10 percent in the last several years, she said. 

Most farmers were getting a reduction as compared to developed land, but without this change the trend was “unsustainable.” 

Local assessors have some leverage in other assessments, she said. This was another step in the Cuomo’s administration trying to make the state a more favorable place for agriculture, she said.

Cooperstown Holstein President Jennifer Huntington said her dairy farm has more than 400 acres, mostly in Middlefield.

 “It can only be positive,” she said about the news. 

Town assessors have been able to keep overall rates reasonable, but it will be helpful locally and in other areas where there is more pressure on land values, she said. It was a Farm Bureau initiative that will make things better for farmers.

Bloomville dairy farmer Barbara Hanselman said taxes are a fixed cost that farmers have to deal with every day. They tend to be large landowners because of the nature of their business. Her farm has about 250 acres. Anything that can be done to minimize the increase is helpful, she said. Policy needs be supportive, if agriculture is going to continue, especially with pressures in Delaware County for residential development and New York City Land acquisitions, she said.

Assemblyman Bill Magee, D- Nelson, chairman of the Agriculture Committee said, “In signing this bill Governor Cuomo has proven his commitment to encouraging and developing agricultural opportunities for all regions of New York. By addressing increasing property taxes, along with expanding resources for growth and development through other initiatives, the Governor is providing New York’s farmers relief from oppressive business costs that will help to keep family farms operating in New York.”

“Protecting our farmers from unsustainable tax hikes is part of our work to change our state’s reputation as the tax capital of the nation by controlling spending while reducing the tax burden on New Yorkers,” Cuomo said. “Agriculture is big business in New York and our State Government is committed to doing everything we can to help this vital industry thrive and continue to create jobs and economic prosperity, particularly upstate.”

Over the past seven years, the base assessment value for agricultural lands has nearly doubled, leading to skyrocketing property tax increases. This, coupled with increases in municipal and school taxes, has led to a difficult business climate for some farmers. The new legislation will help maintain agricultural lands in both high pressure development areas as well as rural areas, and save farmers thousands of dollars in property taxes every year, according to the release.

Currently, 25 percent of New York’s land is in agriculture. High property taxes on agricultural lands put New York at a competitive disadvantage with other states. A two-percent tax cap on annual agricultural assessment increases will keep New York’s family farms competitive and maintain the high quality local food network that the State’s consumers expect, Cuomo said.