WHEREAS, to the New Jersey public, farmland assessment is a cornerstone public policy 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, certain aspects of farmland assessment have come under question concerning enforcement, education, and qualification criteria; and
WHEREAS, the Department commissioned the Food Policy Institute, Rutgers University to research the implications of potential changes in the eligibility requirements for farmland assessment on qualified acreage and agricultural industry revenues in New Jersey; and
WHEREAS, the Rutgers study found raising the minimum revenue requirement to $1,000 would result in 47,378 acres of land (10,426 acres of cropland/pasture and 36,952 acres of woodland) being rendered ineligible for farmland assessment and the estimated loss of $2 million in agricultural industry revenue, assuming no productivity adjustments are made; and
WHEREAS, the Rutgers study also found raising the minimum revenue requirement to $2,500 would result in 149,631 acres of land (56,641 acres of cropland/pasture and 92,989 acres of woodland) being rendered ineligible for farmland assessment and the estimated loss of $10.75 million in agricultural industry revenue, assuming no productivity adjustments are made; and
WHEREAS, in 2008 three separate legislative bills have been introduced that propose to change the farmland assessment qualification criteria by also qualifying woodland through “stewardship” programs that do not require harvesting or sales; defining solar and wind energy generation as agricultural uses; changing the minimum dollar requirement to $1,000; permitting acreage under a bee management plan to qualify; requiring tax assessors to attend educational courses; and providing rule-making authority to the Department to set minimum cropping intensity and livestock carrying capacities; and
WHEREAS, an audit report on the farmland assessment program was released by the Office of Legislative Services in October 2008 that recommended state oversight organizations review and advocate changes to the regulations/policy defining actively devoted farmland/woodland as well as modifying the gross sales requirements and the length of the rollback recovery period; and
WHEREAS, that audit report also cited an uneven enforcement and interpretation of the rules governing farmland assessment by local tax assessors throughout the state, underscoring the need for uniform training and guidance materials to ensure that tax assessors statewide are working from the same set of guidelines and interpreting them in a uniform manner; and
WHEREAS, the audit found inadequate local monitoring of enrolled properties and enforcement of the law’s eligibility provisions, due in part to inadequate resources.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates to the 94th State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on February 10, 2009, 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.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we call on the Department to be pro-active in its approach in ensuring the tax equity benefits of farmland assessment through the development of informational instructions for properly filling out the FA-1 application form to be made available electronically to municipal tax assessors when 28,000 application forms are mailed to farmland owners.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the Department in conjunction with the Division of Taxation to conduct educational courses for municipal tax assessors on agricultural practices common throughout New Jersey, including bio-security measures, and to provide guidance documents that will result in more uniform interpretations of which lands qualify for farmland assessment and which lands don’t.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we oppose any hard-and-fast cropping intensity or livestock carrying capacity standards being established as a means of determining which lands qualify for farmland assessment, since such standards cannot adequately fit the broad scope of land forms, soil types and approved management practices suitable in New Jersey, could result in depletion of natural resources, and would increase the complexity of administering the program and unduly burden qualified land owners.