Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Friday, September 19, 2008

IS A FARM LIKE PORNOGRAPHY?

You can recognize it when you see it? Not in the eyes of the Minnesota Department of Revenue. This department recently sent a directive to the Nicollet County Board of Commissioners and our county assessor, Doreen Pehrson requiring the change of over one hundred parcels to the rural residential classification. These parcels were previously classed as agriculture. The result was that some properties that have been farms for decades now become residential by the stroke of a pen. Another result is that the taxes on these parcels will increase. The department used a set of criteria and looked at what they called “gray” areas and particularly parcels of 10 acres or less in production. This ruling by the state cannot be appealed.

Up until this time the county had been using a policy set up several years ago. I was part of that process and I personally visited many of the parcels that were in question. And, I will testify that “you can tell if it is a farm or not when you see it.” When I stopped by Tom Zellmer’s farm in Belgrade township, there was no doubt in my mind that it was a farm. Tom Zellmer visited the Nicollet County Board of Commissioner’s meeting on September 10 to indicate his displeasure with this new ruling. Tom said, “the property has been in my family for over 80 years and at this time we do not have livestock other than horses. The property has been used to raise alfalfa in the past.” The Zellmers have a barn, outbuildings etc that are needed for raising and breeding horses.

Zellmer acknowledged that his farm may not look like a typical farm of today, but strongly argued (and rightly so, in my opinion) that the production of horses is an agricultural activity. The state department of revenue has the task of trying to determine if the property is agriculture or rural residential and then establishing guidelines for local officials to follow. Some of the problem arises from the preponderance of mini mansions sprouting up in the Metro ring counties. These homes, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars are on six, eight, ten, or twelve acres and many of them raise a few horses for the enjoyment of the family. They then claim to be “agricultural” in property class. Again, a visit to the parcel might clear up some of the mis-understanding, but the cost of sending state officials out to visit these properties would be prohibitive. The answer is that there needs to be an appeal process. As Tom Zellmer stated, “even a life in prison sentence is appealable- but not this!”

County Assessor Doreen Pehrson suggested that landowners could call John Hagen at the Minnesota Department of Revenue at 651-556-6106. End

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