by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Area lawmakers hope to change the Green Acres property tax program, a program that reportedly has some farmers clear cutting trees in order to fit parcels into certain program categories.
The House agriculture committee today (Tuesday, Feb. 1) took testimony about Green Acres, hearing from a number of area farmers and public officials that recent changes to the program has caused confusion, higher taxes, frustration.
“The biggest thing we got out of the meeting this morning is that we want to treat a farm as a farm,” said Rep. Mike LeMieur, R-Little Falls, one of three lawmakers with bills before the agriculture committee.
LeMieur’s bill, as well as that of Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, and that of another Republican lawmaker, are expected to heard later this week.
A main problem with current Green Acres law relates to changes made in 2008 and the creation of separate land categories, “productive” and “nonproductive,” LeMieur explained.
“That’s where all the potholes come,” he said.
Farmers believes the current Green Acres program “‘kicks us in the gut,’” LeMieur said.
In a letter to the committee, Chisago County farmer Glen Holmstrom complained that he had 16 acres of lake front property out of 304 acres of land that will be taxed at higher lake shore rates because it cannot remain in Green Acres.
He has two options: put the old growth oak shoreline into rural preserve with its eight-year covenant or cut the trees down to create a field, wrote Holmstrom.
Other Chisago County residents testified of perceived problems with the Green Acres.
City of North Branch Council Member and farmer Ronald Lindquist told the committee that the changes to Green Acres meant the revenue from one of his family’s farms no longer paid the taxes.
“That’s never happened before,” he said.
Virtually every local government unit in Chisago County has come out publicly as opposed to the changes in Green Acres, Lindquist explained.
Increased demands because of Green Acres
Chisago County officials said the county had to hire an additional tax assessor and a part-time one because of increased demands relating to Green Acres.
Not everyone viewed the current Green Acres program as flawed.
John Hagen, of the Minnesota Department of Revenue, explained that in general Green Acres was in “pretty good shape.”
Hagen said the Green Acres program has been plagued by misinformation — no one has ever been required to cut down wind rows, he said.
The “horror stories” about massive property tax increases, Hagen explained, have less to do with the Green Acres programs than the actions of local assessors.
The agriculture committee on Wednesday is expected to informally meet and work on possible changes to the Green Acres program.
LeMieur is optimistic a reform bill will eventually pass the Minnesota Legislature.
“The thing about the bill is that there’s bipartisan support,” he said.
Kiffmeyer said the 2008 changes to Green Acres “caused more grief than it was worth.”