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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tax By Zone Should End Farmland Exploitation

The Wisconsin State legislature is finally moving to close a loophole that has given developers huge property tax breaks on land rezoned and revalued for residential or commercial estate purposes.

Under scrutiny are definitions and zoning designations of the use-value assessment law enacted in 1995 to help keep farms viable by giving them a property tax break. To my understanding of this latest provision inserted into the state budget, farmers and land owners of parcels zoned AG will see NO change in their property tax assessment formula because only land zoned AG will continue to qualify for the use-value (discounted) assessment.
In Fond du Lac, Wegner, the assessor, said there are two commercial lots that should be assessed at $636,100, but are valued at a total of $900 because winter wheat was planted on them.
Most Wisconsin urban and small town homeowners probably had no idea their property tax bill was inflated partly to help cover developer's carrying costs while they gobbled up and exploited farmland on the cheap. As many as 250,000 acres zoned for residential and commercial development in Wisconsin have been assessed less than a penny on the dollar in property taxes while their owners enjoyed increased land values and profits from sales and speculation.

Despite some opposition from a few farmers about the new zoning proposal, it was less than four months ago when only a handful of brave farmers spoke in opposition of Janesville's hastily approved comprehensive growth plan to target 9,800 rural acres for development, rezoning and annexation - with 1,600 acres within current city limits. Where was further outcry against the city's disastrous plan to pave over the very essence of their livelihoods? Excluding the few who spoke out, I was astonished by the lack of concern shown by our local farmers.

Again, it is important to keep in mind that the current use-value assessment law will remain intact for farmers and land owners who have fought to maintain the land strictly designated for the intentional purposes of farming.

Let's not try to kid anyone here, tax assessments are based on market value, and zoning designations play a large part in establishing a baseline market value on property. Land meeting all of the conditions to achieve and keep the AG zone designation is rightfully discounted no matter what the use is. Besides adding more balance and fairness to everyone's share of the property tax load, this provision will encourage AG land owners and developers to think twice before they approach their local village or city council for annexation or a change in zoning from agricultural.

I applaud the state legislature on this provision and hope they have the courage and fortitude to follow through on closing the tax loophole. It will have a hugely positive impact on the quantity and quality of future growth, restore property tax fairness and strengthen the use-value assessment law against future exploitation. Removing this loophole has been a long time coming.

Please call or write your state legislator and tell them you support the Senate version of the state budget bill closing the use-value tax loophole.

Also, Wisconsin's Agricultural Assessment Guide

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