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Gov. Signs Fake Farmland Reform Bill

Date : Mon, 15 Apr 2013 14:05:26 -0400

For Immediate Release
April 15, 2013 Contact Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

Gov. Signs Fake Farmland Reform Bill Today the Governor signed S589 (Sweeney), a bill that changes qualifications for the Farmland Assessment program.At a time when property taxes are soaring and farmland is being paved over at historic rates, it has become evident that changes to program are needed. However this legislation only increases the amount of agricultural product revenue from the current $500 annually, set in 1964, to $1000.Based on inflation it should be over $10,000 as done in other states like New York.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 purposed with a minimum of five acres of land.

"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, Director 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. In central New Jersey the largest companies in the farmland assessment program are developers and land speculators. While most farmers are dedicated and really need help from Farmland Assessment, we are concerned about those who are taking advantage of the program.Some of the biggest abusers are large corporations and developers.The largest "farmer" in central New Jersey is Thompson Land Company, a land speculator and developer, and the largest "farmer" in Hunterdon County is Toll Brothers.The Farmland Assessment program has been used by developers for years to land bank property for future development.They buy the property cheap and do just enough logging or harvesting of hay to qualify for the program.After paying less than 10% 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 wealth land owners at the expense of everyone else," said Jeff Tittel. At the Merrill Lynch facility in Hopewell they grow soybeans between the large office buildings and qualify for Farmland Assessment. Hercules Chemical owned by Dupont in Mt. Olive is a contaminated site and there are proposals for large scale shopping centers, this is also under Farmland Assessment. The BMW office park in Bergen County where they have plum trees in the picnic area for employee's lunch, also qualifies. Congressman Runyon has a couple of donkeys at his estate in the Pinelands, qualifying for farmland assessment. Roche Pharmaceuticals in Branchburg, Merck's headquarters in Readington, and Bristol Meyers Squibb in Hopewell are all considered farmland by the Farmland Assessment program.There is even a developer in Ringwood who is getting Farmland Assessment credit for property that he is currently building on.On top of that, he is using the trees on the property to build the houses and meet his agricultural quota.Then we have our more wealthy residents with large lots and McMansions who use Farmland Assessment to dodge their taxes.In order to get a 90% tax break on their land, they simply buy a few horses and grow some hay.Steve Forbes of Forbes Magazine can attest to this.

"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," said Jeff Tittel. In New York State, ten acres of land and $10,000 worth of agricultural production is required to qualify for their Farmland Assessment.New Jersey municipalities put millions of dollars a year into this program, yet we are #1 in the nation for loss of farmland as a percentage of overall farmland.A vacant five acre lot in Ringwood is assessed at over $120,000, the same lot in the Farmland Assessment program is only assessed at $12,000.One property owner pays $25,000 for their land while the other pays only $2500. A3090 does not go far enough in addressing the abuses of New Jersey's Farmland Assessment program.By extending the roll back or creating a sprawl tax of $4000 an acre per year, about $40 million a year could be generated; almost enough to run the Farm Preservation program.Extending the rollback would be a great way to help protect farmland and open space and also produce more revenue to fund farm preservation.Currently there is a three year rollback when you change the use from farmland to development.By extending the rollback to ten years, millions of dollars for farmland and open space preservation could be generated.This money would not only help fund the program, it would mean that some of the farmland money from the Garden State Preservation Trust could be shifted to protect water supply lands or to build urban parks. The legislature seems to be more afraid of the land speculators and the Farm Bureau than improving the program to actually protect New Jersey's diminishing farmland and stop abuse of the program. Especially now when municipalities are caught in such dire financial need, as are the taxpayers. There is no problem with the Farmland Assessment program as long as the land is held as farmland or open space.

"Fake reform is worse than no reform because it prevents real reform.This legislation does not fix a broken system.It covers up real reform that is needed," said Jeff Tittel. "As long as we protect land speculators and developers more than farming we will continue to loose farmland to sprawl."

-- 
Kate Millsaps
Conservation Program Coordinator
NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club
609-656-7612
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Received on 2013-04-15 11:05:26

New Jersey Sierra Club, 145 West Hanover St., Trenton, NJ 08618, USA
tel: 609 656 7612, fax 609 656 7618
or email Nicole Dallara, Outreach Coordinator, at nicole.dallara@sierraclub.org

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