Kudos to Alan Gunther and Gannet for digging into the weeds of the farmland assessment program that allows wealthy property owners to reap huge tax breaks for selling a few trees or cords of wood.
Who knew Commerce Bank founder Vernon Hill was moonlighting as a farmer all these years to make ends meet?
According to the Gannet report, “Because Hill harvests seven cords of wood each year, he is granted "farmland assessment" for the 43 acres that surround his palatial estate. He pays only $295.98 in property taxes per year on the land around his six-bedroom, 10-bath home off East Main Street.”
The value of stories like this is to focus the attention of Trenton lawmakers on the need to bring the program’s eligibility requirements into the 21st century.
As noted in the article: “Regulations for the farmland tax assessment haven't been changed in more than 40 years.” The story also reported that “Other states require farmers to harvest more product before a tax break is given” — like a $10,000 minimum in New York.
Exactly my point two weeks ago ("It's Not Old MacDonald's Farm Anymore," 10/11/07): “What cost $500 in 1963 when the state Constitution was amended to help preserve farm land by assessing it at lower rates would now cost $3407 in 2007. So why isn’t the minimum gross sales threshold being adjusted to keep pace with the cost of living?”
Are there any other reporters out there cultivating the field?