The new year could bring long-overdue property tax relief to farmers. If you have been charting your property tax bills on bare farmland over the past eight years, since property tax reform supposedly happened in Indiana, you know you've missed out on your share. Instead, property taxes on farmland have gone up 33% since 2007, when many homeowners saw real relief during the Daniels administration.
If something isn't done, your taxes will go up more, not just next year but for the year after that, and perhaps beyond. Fortunately, Don Villwock, president of Indiana Farm Bureau and a farmer himself, is hopeful that some relief might be in the offing.
A Commission on tax reform for businesses, including farms, reported in November with 19 recommendations. The top three related directly to farming. The first suggested that the legislature freeze property tax levels on bare farmland where they are right now, and not allow them to go higher. That would at least stop the bleeding.
Unless the legislature acts, property taxes on land will continue to increase because the formula that determines the value of average bare farmland is based on economic conditions on the farm four years in arrears. That means the formula has to work through the high prices of a couple years ago before any downturn in increases from year to year could be expected. That's why the third recommendation is to investigate if the formula should be overhauled.
The second recommendation is to delay once again the soil productivity changes that would amount to nothing more than a back door way to increase property taxes on farmland yet again. Indiana Farm Bureau has led the charge to stave it off three times. This time Katrina Hall, director of legislative services for Indiana Farm Bureau, thinks there is a chance to settle it once and for all, and to leave the indexes where they are. That would open the door to concentrating on the formula that is quietly pointing to increased assessments every year.
We think it's high time that the legislature understood the hit farmers and landowners have been taking while homeowners who helped pass the state constitutional amendment to ensure property tax circuit breakers keep their taxes in check continue to enjoy lower tax bills.
It's encouraging that a Commission of legislators themselves came up with fixing ag property tax issues as the top three recommendations in a set of 19 recommendations. But the job of actually making it happen has just begun.
Now it's time for you to get involved. You've read or heard every year that you need to talk to your legislator about the property tax problem. You're going to hear it again – maybe it was never more important than now.
Now there is something to hang your hat on: three recommendations that would stop the bleeding and focus a serious spotlight onto whether the process of assessing farmland for property taxes should change.
Will the Commission's report grow dusty in a legislator's drawer, while you continue paying more than your fair share, or will you force him or her to get it out, dust it off, talk to fellow legislators, and get serious about turning recommendations into reality? The future is up to you.
The Commission did its part. Now it's up to you to help move them from recommendations to legislation.