Saturday, August 8, 2009

President's Editorial

County Farm Bureaus Making a Difference
by Frank Priestley, Idaho Farm Bureau President

A tip of the hat goes out to leaders in Madison and Bonneville County Farm Bureaus. With farmers facing large property tax increases, leaders from these two county Farm Bureaus rolled up their sleeves and went to work. In the end they both worked with county commissioners and others to find compromises that will benefit all of the rural landowners in these two counties.

In Madison County, an assessor who recently left office did so with a 10-year backlog. The county was so far behind in assessing farm values, the Idaho State Tax Commission threatened to withhold the county’s sales tax receipts until the problem was corrected. This caught the attention of the county commissioners, and as a result most farmers and landowners in the county received anywhere from 100 to 400 percent property valuation increases.

To farmers, an increase in that amount following 10 years of relatively flat valuations was not well received. County Farm Bureau leaders called a meeting and invited all farmers to attend. They decided to hire an attorney to argue their case. A hearing with the county commissioners was called and State Tax Commission representatives were in attendance. Rexburg attorney Jerry Rigby proposed the farmers be allowed a hybrid methodology to determine land values and a phase-in period for the adjustment. Further, he used University of Idaho economic data to demonstrate that high farm input and production costs coupled with mediocre commodity prices did not justify the increased valuations.

The attorney’s proposal wasn’t legal and the County Commissioners rejected it. However, because irrigation equipment, which is supposed to be tax exempt, was inadvertently included in the valuations, the county agreed to a 10 to 13 percent reduction in property valuations. Farmers obviously didn’t get everything they wanted, but in the end their vigilance paid off.

Our second example took place in Bonneville County. When farmers there received what they believed to be exaggerated valuations, they took their concerns to their county Farm Bureau board meeting. It came to light that the county assessor’s office could be relying on inflated commodity prices that occurred in 2007 and 2008 due in part to the ethanol boom, when in fact counties are supposed to use a five-year rolling average of commodity prices to help determine land values.

Although protests didn’t yield much if any tax breaks, Bonneville County Commissioners did agree to cooperate with the Bonneville County Farm Bureau to determine production costs and commodity prices in the future. This cooperation gives farmers a voice in the process of computing land values.

The old saying, you can’t fight city hall, rings true in both of these examples. But sometimes the squeaky wheel does get some grease, and we applaud Madison and Bonneville County Farm Bureau leaders for their initiative and tenacity.

In addition, we strongly encourage all Idaho farmers to accurately fill out and return your county agriculture surveys. The surveys are mailed every fall and are relied upon by county assessors to help determine land values. In Madison County last year 1,900 surveys were mailed out with fewer than 300 returned. In Bonneville County 2,500 went in the mail and a county official estimated 40 percent were returned.

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