TRENTON – A bill to revise farmland assessments and deal with non-farmers taking advantage of them cleared the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee today. It passed unanimously.
A3090/S589 makes various revisions to the “Farmland Assessment Act of 1964.”
The bill would increase the standards in order to qualify for farmland assessment from $500 to $1,000 as the minimum gross sales on the first five acres of land.
The Treasury Department would be required annually to adjust the standards in relation to the Consumer Price Index.
In addition, the state Farmland Evaluation Advisory Committee would review the program every three years and if necessary increase those minimums.
The bill, which passed the Senate earlier this year, is in part a response to complaints about so-called “fake farmers,’’ residents or businesses which enjoy greatly reduced tax assessments by meeting standards that critics say are too low.
The state Board of Agriculture supported the bill, and urged that the main oversight responsibility be with the state Department of Agriculture as opposed to the Taxation division because they have the field experience needed.
Jeff Tittel of the N.J. Sierra Club said the bill still has loopholes enabling corporate interests to unfairly get farmland assessments.
He offered several examples, including Merrill Lynch in Hopewell getting such an assessment by having a soybean field on property that is approved as office space.
“They’re getting tax breaks and not paying their fair share,’’ Tittel said of such businesses, by having “minor’’ pieces of their land as agriculture.