New law plows ahead to close agriculture property tax loophole
County assessors are going to be busy this year trying to comply with a new law that went effect Jan. 1.
The new law is designed to close at least part of a loophole in the state’s agricultural property tax laws.
Farmers and ranchers now pay a lower property tax than residential homeowners, including on the land beneath their homes. The idea behind that law is to give those in agriculture a tax break because of the high cost of operating such businesses.
But a state report last year revealed some people are abusing that law, claiming the agricultural exemption because they do such things as lease their land for grazing, in some cases, for as little as a single day of the year. Getting the exemption can save property owners hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year.
To address the problem, the Colorado Legislature passed House Bill 1146, which allows only those homes that are integral to an agricultural operation to get the exemption.
As a result, assessors now have to go through the tax rolls to find those homes that don’t qualify.
For Mesa County Assessor Barbara Brewer, that process is expected to take years, given the thousands of properties in the county that have the designation.
“We’ll be sorting those out as we go,” Brewer said. “We do have several thousand ag properties, so we’re going to have to take it in a practical way.”
Deputy County Assessor Bret Goff said the office will start by sending out letters to all 3,713 property owners who have the agricultural designation in the county, and it will begin to assess them one by one to see which are bona fide agricultural operations, and which are not.
Goff and Brewer said several homes on such lands are rentals, which likely won’t qualify.
Both said the law allows assessors to include up to two acres that would be beneath a home and any outlying structures, as long as they, too, are integral to an agricultural operation.
“The key is: Those folks who are out there working their land, the farmers and ranchers, they won’t have anything to worry about,” Goff said.
“Those assessments will be the same.”
The new law goes into effect this year, but the real impact in higher property tax assessments for landowners won’t be felt until they get their 2012 tax statements in early 2013.