Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Local agricultural producers will soon be receiving a letter that should be of extreme interest to them the results of the first reappraisal of taxable value of agricultural land in decades. “This is the first time the Department of Revenue has done a comprehensive reappraisal of ag and forest land in 40 years,” said Doug Kaercher of the state Tax Appeals Board. The state Department of Revenue, starting this week, will be mailing maps to ag producers around the state showing the results of the reappraisal, which is intended to list the current use of the land in figuring its taxable value. The Hill County Commission said last week it is extremely important for landowners to review the maps and make sure the land use is listed correctly. “A lot of time and effort was expended to make sure this was done right,” Commissioner Mike Anderson said. “Ideally every land owner would review (the maps) to make sure this is right prior to it being enacted.” Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said the state employees doing the reappraisal want the producers to go over the maps closely and make sure the land is listed properly. “They want to have as few problems as possible,” she said. Any problems found on the use of land listed on the map should be brought to the attention of the local Department of Revenue assessor, in the County Courthouse for Hill County. The land use will be in the same five classifications: summer fallow farmland, continuously cropped non-irrigated farmland, irrigated farmland, continuously cropped non-irrigated hay land, and grazing land. The Department of Revenue is also working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Montana Agricultural Statistics Service, using the service’s 12-year average production information, and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service to establish levels of productions from different crops grown on agricultural land. While changes listed for the use of land the taxes for agricultural land are based on its productivity would change the taxable value of the land, that change should not affect the amount of taxes landowners pay. The Department of Revenue has introduced legislation in the 2009 Legislature to ensure the change is revenueneutral. Kaercher explained how such a change in taxable value would not impact the amount of taxes landowners would pay. Entities that raise revenue through taxes on agricultural taxes such as school districts and county governments set the number of mills they will levy based on the amount of money needed in their budget. That number is based on the taxable value of the land if 60 mills will raise the amount set in the budget, that is the number of mills the government will raise. If the taxable value goes up, the number of mills levied will drop, and vice versa. Kaercher said that is what should happen with the new ag land appraisal, with governments adjusting the number of mills to receive the same dollar amounts from landowners. “If the taxable value goes up considerably, they will just reduce mills,” Kaercher said. But to make sure the taxable value is listed correctly, it is very important for producers to review the maps and check whether it is shown with its proper use, Kaercher said. He said the state Board of Tax Appeals has been working closely with the Department of Revenue during the process. “The Department of Revenue has been doing a good job,” he said. “It’s still a mass appraisal and any time a mass appraisal is done there is the potential for errors.” Kaercher said the board has been working with county commissioners to try to raise awareness of the process, educating them about what is happening. The county commissions are usually the first line of defense for property tax payers, the first place the landowners go if they see a problem, said Kaercher, a former Hill County commissioner. Bessette said involving the counties should help to raise that awareness. “I think it was a good idea to get the counties involved and have them notify their producers, one way or another,” she said. She added that the work being done in advance of the new appraisals going into effect should help reduce any errors or problems. “It’s a proactive move, and I think it’s a good thing,” she said. Commissioner Mike Wendland who, along with Bessette, is an active ag producer in Hill County said looking at the results will be interesting both to see how well the reappraisal was done and to see how much land use has changed over the years. “I’ll want to look at it to see if there are any errors, and how much it has changed,” he said.