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Forestry, farmland tax breaks reduced

Haywood County landowners who get a property tax break for agriculture or foresty will see a reduction in that benefit next year.

A countywide revaluation will hit the books next year, bringing home and land values in line with market values. While residential and commerical property is appraised on a case-by-case basis, those with farmland exceptions have an across-the-board value.

Next year, the value of agricultural land will go from $355 per acre to $495 per acre, up 39 percent, affecting 1,625 parcels. Horticulture will go from  $710 to $1,020 per acre, up 43 percent, affecting 56 parcels.

Those who get tax breaks for foresty will see a much higher increase, however. Not only has the value of the land increased since the last revaluation five years ago, but commissioners voted 3-2 this week to move forestry land into a higher value class, in line with recommendations from the state.

Forestry will go from $80 to $185 per acre, up 131 percent, affecting 532 parcels.

The new values are based on recommendations from the N.C. Department of Revenue, in conjunction with a state committee led by university researchers. Recommendations are given based on studies of soil quality, geography and other considerations, and commissioners then have the final say about what level values will be set.

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The soils in Haywood County are ideal for growing trees, making forestry a more profitable operation, and pushing up market value for foresty lands.

Commissioners, however, were at odds over whether to accept the state’s pricier soil class for forestry land.

Chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick came out in favor of higher forestry values to keep the tax burden evenly distributed across the community.

“If they [forestry land owners] are not paying a fair amount or paying on a fair value, then that means that someone else is paying more than their fair share,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’m trying to be fair to all the taxpayers, not just the ones who have property in deferred use.”

Commissioner Mark Swanger was also in favor of the higher value, saying he was wary of arbitrarily rejecting well-researched recommendations.

“I would be hesitant to just arbitrarily move around values when the entire document [provided by the state] is based on mathematical statistics and studies and scientific evidence,” Swanger said at the Monday morning meeting.

Commissioners Kevin Ensley and Skeeter Curtis voted against the increase, citing concerns about consistency in taxation year on year and reluctance to increase the tax liability of residents.

Tax Collector David Francis said, however, that the decision would have minimal impact on the county’s coffers or its farmer’s livelihoods.

“This does not amount to a great amount of revenue for the county,” Francis said. “For 600 acres of forestry, you would see approximately $300 in tax increase. To the average farmer, the impact is not going to be that great.”

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