Madison County set a 10-acre minimum for conservation use tax breaks in the county Monday, but the change won’t affect property owners with less than 10 acres, who currently enjoy the exemption, until 2012.
Conservation status allows landowners to be taxed at a much lower rate than other property owners if their land is used for agricultural purposes. The exemption was established by the state to help protect farmers from facing high tax rates on their large-acre tracts, a financial burden that could force farmers out of business.
But leaders have noted that the break is not always used for its intended purpose. They point out that some people in the county are getting conservation tax breaks on properties as small as half an acre.
“It’s hard to see much farming going on on a half acre of land,” said Commissioner Stanley Thomas.
Several people spoke Monday on the matter. A couple said they would be OK with a 10-acre minimum, but would oppose anything greater than that. Earlier this year, the board of assessors suggested a 15-acre minimum.
“You need to consider the elderly and the farmers we have who raise produce,” said Hoke Strickland. “I ask you to set the limit at 10 acres.”
One speaker opposed the measure and asked the board to leave the law as it is.
“Tax assessors already have the authority to require additional information from people to get into conservation use,” said Bob Islar. “If you’re subsistence agriculture, you can certainly do that on less than 10 acres. And a lot folks are going to have to do that as the economy gets worse to feed themselves. I urge you not to do anything with this. Leave the law the way it is.”
With Monday night’s action, any property owner applying for the first time for conservation status in 2009 must have at least 10 acres to be eligible for the tax break.
Property owners with less than 10 acres who currently enjoy the tax exemption won’t be able to renew that exemption after 2012. However, commissioners emphasized that small tract owners who want to maintain their conservation status can renew their conservation status if they act before 2012.
A couple of citizens noted that some small tracts of less than 10 acres adjoin larger agricultural tracts. These small tracts may also be used for agricultural purposes. But the board did not resolve Monday how small agriculture tracts that adjoin larger agriculture tracts will be taxed in the future.