The Madison County Board of Tax Assessors is deadlocked over whether to grant conservation tax status for a 781-acre tract near Colbert which board member Larry Stewart says accommodates commercial hunting activity.
With the board vote tied 2-2, it will refer to county attorney Mike Pruett for guidance.
“We’re at an impasse basically,” Stewart said at Monday night’s board meeting.
The assessor board usually wouldn’t find itself in such a quandary, but it currently lacks a fifth member to cast a tie-breaking vote.
If granted, conservation status would mean lower taxes for this property, owned by Coleman Whitehead. Many landowners not planning to develop their land apply for this less-taxed classification.
Whitehead, who attended Monday’s meeting with his attorney, Robert Huff, filed the petition for conservation status for the land used by the Brush Creek Sporting Club. Whether or not that hunting club still exists and is open to the public was a topic of debate between Whitehead and his legal counsel and Stewart.
“The law is very clear than that there is to be no commercial activity on agricultural conservation (land),” Stewart said.
Stewart said business appears to be very much alive at this location, even referring a webpage and brochures that advertise all-day hunts and corporate events on this land.
“The website clearly reflects that,” Stewart said. “We all have documentation of that.”
Stewart also said land couldn’t be reinstated under conservation in the same year since it was removed.
Whitehead’s 781 acres held conservation land status until March of this year when that designation was stripped.
Whitehead was also imposed no fine, which Stewart said was a mistake.
Huff said the overriding purpose for Whitehead’s land is agriculture and has met qualifications for conservation status with previous Madison County tax assessor boards.
But Huff also later asked if a compromise could be reached where Whitehead pays taxes on a certain acreage for hunting. The rest would fall under conservation.
Opinion varied among the board with how to handle the situation.
Stewart and chairperson Samantha Garland voted against granting Whitehead conservation status while Bob Fowler and Jim Escoe voted in favor of it.
Fowler cast his vote somewhat reluctantly, saying that he had problems with approving conservation status, but added, “there’s not enough direction” to vote against it.
State law does not allow one to refile in the same year one is breached out of conservation .One can apply the next tax year .This board has already broken several state laws by not imposing fines associated with a breach , then compounded this infraction by making a "local" ruling that allows others to do the same thing . Others have paid this penalty . Maybe they should be given a refund .
This board is charged with equatable taxation for everyone . When one is given a break the rest of us have to pay for this break. Some are legit and small, but this break approached six figures and was not legit. Others have paid this penalty . Maybe they should apply for a refund. If you want to get out of your conservation contract now is the time as penalties have been waved .
During this time of budget shortfalls and declining revenues the mistakes made by this Board need to be examined by the BOC .