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WHEREAS, the Garden State’s high quality of life depends to a great extent on maintaining our diverse agricultural industry; and agriculture is an important contributor to New Jersey’s economic vitality, employing thousands of people in a variety of careers on and off the farm; and

WHEREAS, privately owned farmland and woodland account for more than one million acres of land, nearly 25 percent of the State’s land area, on which taxes are paid to support municipal budgets, school districts and county governments; and

WHEREAS, in 1963, New Jersey voters approved a constitutional amendment that permitted farmland to be assessed and taxed based on the agricultural productivity of the land; and

WHEREAS, today, farmland assessment continues to be one of the single most important public policies in keeping agriculture, and all its positive environmental, economic and aesthetic attributes, alive and well in this, the most densely populated state in the nation; and

WHEREAS, the Farmland Assessment Act established the implementation program for farmland and woodland to be assessed at its agricultural or horticultural value; and

WHEREAS, at the time the Farmland Assessment Act was adopted, it was only the second such program in the nation; and now, nearly every state has enacted a farmland taxation program to support the economic viability and diverse benefits of agriculture; and

WHEREAS, farmland assessment does not forgive taxes; rather, the Act permits assessments on qualified land to be in line with net income from the land, allowing the farmland owner the opportunity to pay local taxes based on the productive capacity of the land devoted to agricultural or horticultural production; and

WHEREAS, farmland assessment provides an equitable tax assessment when land used for agricultural purposes is assessed on that basis; the Farmland Assessment Act provides the means through which land “actively devoted” to an agricultural or horticultural use can be taxed at its productive capabilities for cropland harvested, cropland pastured, permanent pasture, appurtenant woodland and non-appurtenant woodland; and

, the Farmland Assessment Act deals with the assessed value of land, but does not affect the assessed value of improvements; therefore, the farm dwelling, land associated with the farm dwelling, and farm structures such as barns, farm markets, packaging and processing structures, and equine facilities are assessed and taxed at the same level, market value, as other non-farm real estate; and

WHEREAS, a State Farmland Evaluation Advisory Committee annually establishes productivity values for farmland and woodland for use by local assessors in assessing qualified farmland; it is important to note that New Jersey farmers continue to pay the second highest property taxes in the nation, eight times higher than the national average, even with farmland assessment; and

WHEREAS, the Farmland Assessment Act also provides for a levy of rollback tax if the use of the land changes from agriculture or horticulture; as a result, any qualified land that changes from an eligible agricultural or horticultural use to some other non-farm use, which includes the abandonment of agricultural activity, is subject to rollback taxes; and

WHEREAS, the rollback tax liability is for the year in which the change takes place, and for each of the two tax years immediately preceding in which the land was valued, assessed and taxed under the Act; and

WHEREAS, the liability for rollback taxes attaches to the land at the time a change in use of the land occurs, but not when a change in ownership takes place, if the new owner continues to maintain the land in an active agricultural or horticultural use in conformity with the requirements of the Act; and

WHEREAS, periodically, certain provisions of the Farmland Assessment Act have been questioned and have come under the scrutiny of legislators and other policymakers;

WHEREAS, in order to develop objective information on the program’s basic qualification criteria, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture commissioned a study by Cook College, Rutgers University; and

WHEREAS, the study, issued in January 1999, provided objective, quantitative information regarding possible impacts resulting from changes to the program’s qualification criteria; however, the study did not provide any recommendations concerning its findings; and

WHEREAS, to fully evaluate the economic analysis and findings of the Cook College report and develop recommendations, a Farmland Assessment Review Committee was created by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture; and

WHEREAS, in the Recommendations of the Farmland Assessment Review Committee prepared in March 2001, the Committee looked at the findings of the Cook College study and strongly recommended that the current minimum acreage and revenue requirement remain unchanged; and

WHEREAS, in assessing the impact of lengthening the rollback period, the study found that sizable acreage would go out of agriculture if the rollback years were increased, due to the fact that for many farmers, the ability to remain in agriculture stems not only from current financial returns, but also from the increasing value of their farmland; and

WHEREAS, if the rollback period were lengthened, that would be tantamount to a reduction in the value of the land due to the increased cost associated with the conversion of the land use; therefore, any increase in the length of the rollback period would adversely impact the ability to remain in farming and retain farmland.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we the delegates to the 91st State Agricultural Convention assembled in Atlantic City, New Jersey on February 8, 2006, reaffirm the paramount importance that farmland assessment has in providing equitable agricultural taxes on farmland and woodland actively devoted to an agricultural or horticultural use. We concur with the findings of the Farmland Assessment Review Committee that to change either the minimum acreage and revenue requirements or the rollback provisions as provided in the constitutional amendment would result in additional losses of farmland and woodland.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, in light of the many changes taking place in New Jersey, we direct the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and the agricultural community to increase their efforts to educate all of our citizens regarding the significance of the public policies in sustaining a viable agricultural industry and maintaining tax revenue, and generating open space.