Legislation aims to minimize Colorado’s ag-land tax breaks | SummitDaily.com

Legislation aims to minimize Colorado’s ag-land tax breaks

Christopher N. Osher
The Denver Post

Proposed legislation unveiled Thursday that would restrict tax breaks for agricultural land is crafted in a way to keep a powerful potential opponent on the sidelines.

Backers of the bill say they are doing all they can to keep from angering agricultural interests, which killed past reform efforts.

But some fear the proposal has been watered down so much it won’t make much of a difference. And developers and real estate interests remain leery of the latest effort.

Colorado Counties Inc. is spearheading the legislation aimed at reining in huge tax discounts that property owners receive when prime residential land is classified as agricultural.

Critics contend Colorado’s law is so vague that wealthy homeowners in mountain resort towns and booming suburbs can manipulate the system to get tax discounts for marginal agricultural activity.

State Rep. Tom Massey, a Republican from Poncha Springs, is sponsoring legislation that would allow assessors to tax at the higher residential rate up to 2 acres of a farm or ranch if that land isn’t integral to the agricultural operation. The land underneath a home also would be taxed as residential in such instances.

“We’re saying, ‘Come on, you’re not bringing in your cows to calve on your Italianate marble floors,’ ” said Bill Clayton, a lobbyist for Colorado Counties Inc.

Massey, who has worked as a real estate agent and developer, said he’s seen the abuses of the system and thinks he has come up with a proposal that should pass muster.

“We’re taking the most innocuous of the measures and saying this is one we think we can effect,” Massey said.

Officials with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Colorado Farm Bureau said they have been briefed on the legislation and don’t anticipate opposing it. Allowing exceptions for homes integral to an agricultural enterprise is a strategy aimed at easing concerns of the members of those groups. Their boards will take formal positions later this month.

The proposed legislation comes from recommendations in a state task force report that studied the issue. Members of the agricultural community participated in that task force and felt their opinions were heard, said Troy Vredenkamp, executive vice president of the Farm Bureau.

“It appears to us that the bill reflects a lot of what was in the task force report,” he said. “And if it does that, I think it could be found to be fairly favorable among Farm Bureau members.”

Some county assessors said the proposed legislation doesn’t go far enough.

Summit County’s assessor, Beverly Breakstone, said assessors agreed to support the proposal because they see it as something that is doable in this legislative session, which opens Wednesday. But she said, it is not going to fix the problem with ag-tax abuses.

“We see this measure as problematic,” she said. “It is just going to make taxpayers mad. The idea should be to do something substantive.”

She said substantive changes would include setting a minimal acreage and/or a minimum income gained from agricultural production, something other states have done.

“The problems (with the ag-tax law) are so enormous. They are so big that this is going to be just one little step in making it right,” Breakstone said, adding that many other assessors feel the same way.

Read more: Legislation aims to minimize Colorado’s ag-land tax breaks – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_17031623#ixzz1AM8Wh3WA

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