Torrey passes farm tax relief

John Christensen
Taxes collected in the Town of Benton to support various fire districts are now calculated with a formula that takes the annual production value of agricultural land into account. Torrey officials just passed a resolution establishing the same system, but a similar proposal in Potter has been tabled.

In an effort to make the fire district tax bills more equitable, the Town of Torrey unanimously passed a resolution to lower the fire district tax on agricultural fields by basing the tax on the land’s annual production value recently.

Mary Lilyea, assessor for the towns of Torrey, Benton, and Potter, explained at the meeting that New York State tax law allows towns to base the tax upon the annual production value of the land, rather than the real estate market value. The production value is established each year by the USDA, the N.Y. State Dept. of Agriculture and Markets, and the N.Y. State Dept. of Taxation and Finance.

Lilyea explains if a field’s real estate value is $5,000 per acre, but its annual production is just $1,000, that $4,000 difference is the “ag exemption,” and the fire tax would then be based on the $1,000 production value. This exemption is only for agricultural land; all farm buildings and homes are taxed at full real estate market value.

Lilyea says 16 percent of the parcels in Torrey received agricultural exemptions, but pay 28 percent of the fire district tax. The resulting increase on the tax burden for other types of property would be $10 per $100,000 of value.

The Town of Benton passed the same measure at about the time they built the new firehouse in 2004, according to Lilyea.

When officials in the Town of Potter considered the the same resolution last week, the numbers were considerably different.

There, 30 percent of the parcels received the agricultural exemption and paid 52 percent of the fire tax. With a much smaller tax base than Torrey, if the resolution were to be passed in Potter, the increase for other property holders would be $39 per $100,000 of value, which includes a special district for ambulance services as well.

Approximately 12 to 15 residents spoke against the Potter resolution, while two farmers argued for it. The board decided to table the matter for further study.