NCPR’s Joanna Richards reported this morning on agriculture advocates’ support of a bill currently in the New York State assembly that would slow the rise of property taxes for farmers. A couple weeks ago, Joanna covered the story in some detail, explaining how rising crop values can increase the assessed value of farmers’ land, while actually not making much of a difference in their income.
Basically, corn and soy have become a bigger part of what North Country farmers grow, and those crops are rising in value, BUT at the same time they’re a major part of those farmers’ cows’ diets, so the cost of feed is going up. So they’re not making more money, many farmers argue, but they are paying more taxes. Although farmland is, overall, valued at less than residential land for tax purposes, some say they’re hitting the current 10 percent cap every year, increasing their taxes by thousands over the last several years (this is explained much better in Joanna’s piece.)
We’re all familiar with property tax increase caps from the controversy about the residential tax increase cap from last year, which has come up again and again since (including in a story from our newsroom today on education budgets in the Tupper Lake schools.) The agriculture cap raises some similar questions.
The Daily Courier-Observer reports that a majority at Monday evening’s St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators meeting voted “yes” on a resolution to support the bill, which would hold assessment increases at two percent a year (the resolution didn’t pass for technical reasons.)
Supporters of the bill argued at the meeting (as they have elsewhere) that rapidly-climbing assessments make farming too expensive for many. Legislator Frederick S. Morill, D-Hermon: “Agriculture generates wealth…we need to encourage agriculture industry in St. Lawrence County.”
Others, like Legislator Sallie A. Brothers, D-Norfolk, say that if the state (essentially) reduces the future tax liability of agricultural properties by cutting the increase from 10 percent to two percent, that takes money out of the pockets of others, like homeowners and other businesses: They’ll somehow have to make up that lost revenue.
That last point is a toughie: Local governments are already squeezed, and with the two percent property tax cap in place, sources of revenue for, say, local schools, are becoming tough to find (and it’s starting to show.) No one wants to pay more in taxes, but with strict limits on future tax assessments, how will we pay to keep going?