Goodbye to Green Acres

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(MPR photo/Chris Welsch)

Dave Price, a road builder and baker who moved to Baldwin Township in 1978, has a bone to pick with lawmakers who, in 2008, made it harder to qualify for the state’s Green Acres program. “It’s all about money,” says Price, whose yearly tax on 15 acres has jumped from $46 to $460. “It’s about building up the tax base. The county wants to divide everything up and sell it and develop it.”

Green Acres was established forty years ago to protect farmers in areas of rapid development. The program gives qualifying landowners a reduced tax rate in order to mitigate the effects of growth and rising land values. This makes it easier for farmers to hang onto their land instead of allowing it to be developed.

Until recently, the program was fairly easy to qualify for. A landowner had only to earn a small amount of income from a property in order for it to be deemed agricultural–a standard that could be met, say, by chopping down some trees and selling wood. But the new language, which took effect in 2009, specifically excludes, “non-productive acres such as sloughs, woodlands and wetlands that are not used for agricultural production.”

That description fits an awful lot of land in sandy-soiled Baldwin Township, which is more conducive to Christmas-tree farming than raising corn or soybeans. To some degree, Green Acres was a force for preservation in Baldwin, which has erupted since the mid-1990s with houses and cul-de-sacs. “This will make more people sell their land for development,” Price asserts. “Because, why not?”

In response to complaints about the changed law, in 2009, the state created the Rural Preserve program, which offers a similar tax break on property that no longer qualifies for Green Acres. Landowners must gain approval from the county and agree to follow a conservation management plan for ten years in order to reap tax benefits starting in 2011.

Green Acres is just one of the forces determining how Baldwin Township might change in the future. What’s been your experience with it? Have your taxes gone up because of changes to the Green Acres law? Will higher taxes push you to sell your property? Will you enroll in the Rural Preserve program?

Let us know by leaving a comment.

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