TRENTON – The New Jersey Sierra Club once again criticized the so-called fake farmers bill that Gov. Chris Christie signed into law.
While the group acknowledged changes need to be made to the erstwhile Farmland Assessment Act, it criticized the relatively nominal increase from the current $500 annually, set in 1964, to $1,000 in goods sold that the bill calls for.
The Sierra Club said that based on inflation it should be more than $10,000 as done in other states like New York.
The group added that the legislation doesn’t end tax breaks for developers, land speculators or corporate office parks that hide beyond farmland assessment. By qualifying for the program, property owners receive a tax break on land used for agricultural purposes with a minimum of five acres of land, the group said.
“This is fake reform and it ends up protecting many of the same land owners that are trying to get around having to pay their fair share of property taxes. If they don’t pay, we pay,” said Jeff Tittel, executive director of NJ Sierra Club. “The bill does nothing to deal with land speculators, corporate office parks, or fake farmers. It doesn’t change the bill for tree farmers so the same former state senator can still sell ten trees from her estate to qualify for tax breaks.”
Tittel said far too many developers buy the property cheap and do just enough logging or harvesting of hay to qualify for the program. After paying less than 10 percent of the assessed value in taxes, they develop the property and cash out with a tremendous amount of money.
“It is not how well you farm the land, it is how well you farm the government. This is another form of subsidizing wealthy land owners at the expense of everyone else,” Tittel said. “We need to end the abuse by fake farmers, such as office parks, and wealthy folks that use the Farmland Assessment to get around paying taxes. If they don’t pay, the rest of us do,” Tittel said.
One of the bill’s primary sponsors, Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-11) of Red Bank, however said the legislation requires the state Agriculture Department to draft regulations within a year that will spell out what qualifies as a legitimate working farm and what doesn’t.