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Farmers Weigh in on Tax Breaks

Lawmakers are considering changes to the current use law while farmers tell them where they have it right or wrong.

Vermont farmers flocked to Montpelier Tuesday night to let lawmakers know what changes they want to see in the Current Use Law.

State Senators held a public hearing at the Statehouse on the legislation that gives millions in property tax breaks to farmers and some landowners. They’re considering a number of changes to the bill that passed the house last year.

One change that David Miskell, an organic farmer in Charlotte, doesn’t want to see is the tax break on his greenhouse. Miskell helped convince lawmakers the last time the current use bill was taken up to include agriculture buildings. He says the importance of current use can’t be overvalued.

“It's one of the most important programs in the state of Vermont for agriculture and forestry,” Miskell said.

For example, the tax break on his greenhouse alone is $5,000.

“It's a big difference,” Miskell said.

Lawmakers ensured Miskell the tax break on agriculture buildings isn’t going to change. But there are other tweaks legislators want to make to the bill.

Senator Robert Starr says that means creating a cap on the tax breaks. When a property value reaches a certain level, he said he wants to see them tax eligible.

That number hasn’t been determined yet but Miskell is concerned his farm may fall into that category.

“I hope I don't get lumped in because that's all I have is my farm,” Miskell said.

This also has town assessors concerned about their role in the process. One town lister said she’s concerned about assessing property value because there are so few sales in her town. Judging an accurate property value on farms, she says, could be a challenge.

The current use program doesn’t apply to just farmers. Landowners with at least 25 acres of property of forest land also qualify for the tax breaks. Lawmakers are considering bumping up the minimum acreage to 50.

Farmers also disagreed on whether to maintain or reduce a fine for opting out of the current use program. Landowners can’t build on property designated for current use without voiding the agreement. If they do then they would have to pay a fine.

To read the full bill click here.

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