TRENTON – The Senate Energy and Environment Committee released bill S589, which would change the criteria by which applicants could qualify for the Farmland Assessment program, in an effort to weed out so-called “fake farmers.”
Presently, the Farmland Assessment program provides as much as a 98 percent property tax discount to applicants as long as they own five acres of land and produces $500 worth of items.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Beck, (R-12) of Red Bank, who has worked on the bill for six years.
Beck’s bill calls for raising the gross income requirement from products produced on the farm to be at least $1,000, in order to qualify for tax deduction. In addition, it requires a review every three years of properties receiving the farmland assessment, and to have tax assessors receive training to better identify a farm.
“There is nothing that really guides tax assessors on what is really a farm. The result has been that we have a lot of fake farmers,” Beck said.
Beck said a mechanism must be put in place to prevent hard-working farmers from getting “a black eye from the guy who has one peach tree and sells $500 worth of peaches himself.”
Jeff Tittel of Sierra Club New Jersey said while the bill is a step in the right direction, it “doesn’t deal with modern times,” saying some beneficiaries will simply sell more items, such as Christmas trees, to get the discounted property taxes. He added that several landowners take advantage of the discount while waiting for their development project to break ground.
But Beck said the concerns Tittel brought up will be part of the “next tier of change” that needs to happen.