Productive agriculture landowners get a break at tax time

Gill Ranch, Salmon River Country, Dec. 30, 2015.

Property taxes came due Dec. 20, providing a significant source of revenue for local governments and public schools.

For ranchers and farmers with several hundred to several thousand acres, the tax bill can quickly add up. Fortunately, productive landowners get a break when it comes tax time.

The agricultural program, also known as the ag exemption, reduces the taxable value of agricultural land.

Approximately 5,440,000 acres make up Idaho County with only 784,032 acres listed on the tax rolls. The majority of acres, consisting of state and federal lands, are tax exempt.

Sheriffs were generally the tax collectors until 1881, when the responsibility of collecting property taxes was given to assessors.

The Idaho County Tax Assessor is the local official who is responsible for assessing the taxable value of all properties within Idaho County, and may establish the amount of tax due on that property based on the fair market value appraisal.

“The requirements for land to qualify as agricultural property are pretty complicated,” said Idaho County Assessor, James Zehner.

According to Idaho Code 63-604, for property tax purposes, land which is actively devoted to agriculture shall be eligible for appraisal, assessment, and taxation as agricultural property each year it meets one or more of the required qualifications.

One such qualification requires the total area of such land, including the home site, is more than five contiguous acres and actively devoted to agriculture which means: it is used to produce field crops…; it is used to produce nursery stock…; it is in a cropland retirement or rotation program; or it is used by the owner for the grazing of livestock to be sold as part of a for-profit enterprise, or is leased by the owner to a bona fide lessee for grazing purposes.

For-profit means the enterprise will, over some period of time, make or attempt to make a return of income exceeding expenses.

Land utilized for the grazing of a horse or other animals kept primarily for personal use or pleasure rather than as part of a bona fide for-profit enterprise shall not be considered to be land actively devoted to agriculture.

“Ag land is valued on the land’s ability to produce an income from agricultural use. Crop yields, rents, and grazing animals per acre are used to determine the values,” said Zehner.

Zehner continued, “Since 2007, Idaho County has viewed owners of agricultural land as having a business and has added a business solid waste charge to anyone who has agricultural land. This has been an additional $198.72 per year.”

Zehner has worked for Idaho County since 1986, gaining knowledge and experience needed to become a highly qualified assessor. Zehner spent 13 years as an appraiser for the assessor’s office and seven years in the mapping department.

“I was elected as assessor in 2006 and sworn in for the 2007 tax year,” Zehner said.

There are a number of different assessment rates that apply to the land according to its ability to produce crops or grazing grasses. The value is calculated by multiplying the acres in the program by one of these rates, which are lower than the per acre rates for full market value. These rates are provided by the State Tax Commission and change each year.

The range of difference between agricultural land and non-producing agricultural land could be two to 15 times higher depending on many variables, such as size, location and soil types.

Taxable land is broken down into several categories with Idaho County property consisting of the following:

Category 1 equals 758 acres of Irrigated Agriculture; Category 3 equals 182,977 acres of Dry Agriculture; Category 5 equals 359,348 acres of Dry Grazing; Category 6 equals 64,540 acres of Productivity Timber; Category 7 equals 120,977 acres of BL (Bare Land) & Yield Timber, totaling 728,600 taxable agricultural acres.

“Agricultural land is indexed each year and it is physically reappraised every five years, just like all property,” said Zehner.

by Shelley Neal of Lucile; .

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