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County to review agricultural district applications

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The Jefferson County Planning Department will begin reviewing 12 applications from property owners who want their land included in one of the county’s three agricultural districts.

The 12 applications received in June represent 20 parcels. At least 51 percent of each parcel must either be actively farmed or highly suitable for agricultural production to be eligible for inclusion in a district.

Over the coming weeks, E. Hartley Bonisteel, the Planning Department official managing the program, and Jay M. Matteson, Jefferson County agricultural coordinator, will visit the parcels to certify that they meet the criteria.

Inclusion in an agricultural district can provide several benefits to landowners, including eligibility for agricultural assessments, which can provide property tax relief by pegging assessment value to the value of agricultural production per acre.

Inclusion also can provide protection from restrictive local laws and public acquisition of private land as well as special consideration when assessing levies for water, fire or ambulance districts and special consideration given to planning and zoning actions affecting farmland in a district.

This year, “all applications except one are from the northern portion of the county,” Ms. Bonisteel said.

Applications often come in such clusters, depending on the way word about the program spreads among farmers, said Donald A. Canfield, director of planning for Jefferson County.

After the parcels are surveyed by Ms. Bonisteel and Mr. Matteson, their report will be reviewed by the county’s farmland protection board, which will submit a recommendation to the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, which must endorse the inclusion of the parcels before final approval is obtained from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.

The state Legislature recently passed a bill that will cap agricultural land assessment increases at 2 percent a year after dairy farmers complained that rising corn and soybean prices were creating onerous property tax bills relative to their income and expenses.

New York farmers pay an average property tax of $38.41 per acre, roughly three times the national average of $12.34 per acre, according to statistics from Farm Credit East.

The assessments previously were capped at 10 percent, an amount that mitigated “extreme and forceful increases in base rate values” but did little to stop many farm families from reconsidering their ability to operate in New York state, according to the legislation, which was sponsored in the state Senate by Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and co-sponsored by Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, and supported in the Assembly by Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River.

The bill must be signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo before taking effect.

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