Farm Horizons, February 2009

Nothing funny about Green Acres

Ivan Raconteur
Staff Writer

The term “Green Acres” might still remind some people of the homey 1965-1971 television comedy starring Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor, but in Minnesota, Green Acres refers to the Minnesota Agricultural Property Tax Law.

Last year, the state made some important changes to the law, and rural property owners aren’t laughing.

The Green Acres program was implemented more than 30 years ago. It reduces taxes on some agricultural land. In order to qualify for the program, non-agricultural factors (such as development) must be increasing the land’s value.

The program reduces property taxes by lowering the taxable value of eligible land.

The changes implemented last year will increase taxes on rural land that is unsuitable for farming. Critics of the changes say this could result in landowners plowing up buffer strips, wetlands, and woodlands, because it will now be less expensive to farm these areas than to preserve them for conservation purposes.

Another controversial change that drew protests from landowners is a provision that would require land owners to pay back taxes on land if it is sold or transferred.

Some county assessors have also expressed concern about the changes. The cost and time required to implement the changes led some assessors to request extensions to the deadline for implementing the changes.

Some also asked the legislature to consider rescinding or at least modifying the changes.

In Wright County, which is among those most affected by the changes, Assessor Greg Kramber mailed 3,800 letters to program participants in October explaining the new rules.

Areas such as sloughs and woodlands no longer qualify for the program. Ineligible acres must be withdrawn from the program or grandfathered (which now requires that landowners pay seven years of back taxes on unproductive land when they sell the property, rather than three years, which was the previous limit).

When the changes were announced last year, the Wright County Board authorized Kramber to send a letter to the governor requesting and extension to comply with the changes in the law.

Kramber and other assessors in counties that participate in the Green Acres program, were required to review each property that is enrolled to determine what percentage of the land is productive, versus that which is unproductive. In counties such as Wright and Carver where participation is high, this required a significant amount of time and resources.

Under pressure from landowners and other groups, the legislature is expected to review the Green Acres program during the current legislative session.

Why were the changes implemented?

Among the factors which caused the legislature to make the changes to the Green Acres program last year was a study released in February 2008 by the Minnesota office of the legislative auditor, which found that:

• the Green Acres program effectively equalizes taxes for many agricultural landowners. However, the program’s effectiveness in preserving farmland was questioned.

• it is unclear whether the program’s goals include benefitting some types of land, such as untillable land used mostly for hunting.

• some eligibility criteria are outdated, difficult to implement fairly, or create inequities.

• not all counties that could have implemented the program have done so, and administration of the program is inconsistent.

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