This week, in the wake of an Attorney General’s opinion, the first of dozens of notices will go out to owners of properties in San Juan County which have been benefiting from a tax break for which they do not appear to qualify.
County Assessor Charles Zalmanek and Prosecutor Randy Gaylord had developed a three-year deferral plan to give property owners who were receiving the Current Use tax breaks a chance to show they were meeting the requirements. Some property owners did not have records and others weren't earning the required amount of property from the farmland.
However, the county Agricultural Resource Committee, which has in the past few years, protested to the county Council against Zalmanek's enforcement of the rules. They asked the council to obtain an Attorney General's opinion.
The Attorney General rendered the opinion that the Assessor must act "promptly" to remove non-compliant parcels from the special tax program and to "impose any additional tax, interest and penalty provided under state law."
The properties, currently classified as "Current Use Farm and Agricultural Land" are taxed at a fraction of their actual market value as part of a program sanctioned by state law. In exchange for the tax break, the owner is required to meet certain requirements such as farming the land. Leasing the land to others to farm is legal as long as records showing the required amount of income from the property are kept and submitted to the assessor.
A property which is removed from the program must repay the last seven years of tax reduction plus interest and penalty on the difference between the full tax rate and the taxes actually paid during those years.
"I have sympathy for many of the landowners involved," Zalmanek said. "However, all of the people who have been receiving this tax break did sign agreements that laid out the requirements and the penalties for not meeting them," he said, At issue is fairness and the requirements of the law. The reduced taxes paid on properties in the 'Current Use' programs are shifted to the rest of the County's taxpayers. And now the Attorney General has made it clear that the duty of the Assessor is to act promptly to remove non-compliant lands from this special tax program."
Zalmanek noted that some properties which do not meet the requirements for the Current Use Farm and Agricultural Program may qualify for other programs and that a few properties have already been reclassified into a different tax program, without penalty. Some properties have been moved into the Farm Conservation program and others have moved into the Open Space program.
More detailed information on the Farm and Agricultural, Open Space, and Timber Programs is available on the County website at sanjuanco.com/assessor/current.aspx or by contacting the Assessor's Office at 378-2172 or Assessor@sanjuanco.com .