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Problems surface with 'Green Acres'

Published (2/22/2008)
By Courtney Blanchard
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The 40-year-old Green Acres program, along with two other agricultural land preservation programs, generally reduces property taxes for farmers whose land value is high due to nonagricultural factors, according to a report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor. The general consensus on the purpose of the program is to save farmland by easing the pressure on owners who could be tempted or pressured into selling their land at a high price for development.

But the report, presented to the House Property Tax Relief and Local Sales Tax Division Feb. 15, finds the program doesn’t always protect those “green acres” from development in the long run.

No action was taken, but Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth), the division chairman, said the issue would likely be addressed this session, either by tweaking current law or adopting major changes.

The report found program problems, including:

• it does not help all who are eligible, either because landowners don’t know about it or choose not to apply;

• the specific purpose of the program is not outlined in law;

• eligibility criteria are outdated and difficult to implement fairly; and

• it does not always protect farmland in the long run, as some owners wait until land prices increase dramatically and then sell.

In 2007, the program reduced landowners’ property taxes by about $40 million. With such a large tax break, the report recommended clarifying current law by stating exactly who should benefit, giving local agencies more responsibility to enforce preservation programs and developing other strategies to encourage owners to keep their farmland.

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