Tonawanda News

Columns

September 4, 2013

CONFER: Ease the tax growth on farmers

Tonawanda News — It has been written here before that property taxes are the most unfair of all the taxes. School, county, and town levies penalize people for accumulating wealth (their house and land) and for improving upon it (home improvements) while rewarding people who do neither (by having them pay less for access to the same local services).

That inequity is especially pronounced when it comes to agriculture. Farms throughout Upstate represent, by far, the largest taxpayers in rural communities; after all, farming is the most land-intensive business there is. Farming families use no more public services — like roads, fire protection and schools — than non-farming families, yet they end up paying tax bills that are multiples of what their neighbors pay.

The burden placed upon farmers is mammoth, even with help that they get in the form of special agricultural assessments, farm building exemptions, and school tax credits. When it comes to the final tax bill, New York farmers pay an average of $38.41 per farm acre.

That inequality on the home front creates major inequality in the marketplace. Know that just like manufacturers, farmers operate in a global economy — this isn’t roadside stand versus roadside stand. They are trying to get their produce, meat and milk into canneries, processors and stores throughout the world, as are farmers everywhere from Washington to Brazil. That’s why you see such a diversity of sources when looking at labels while grocery shopping.

Farmers have to first battle what Mother Nature throws at them and, then, when they are done, they have to battle for market share. Like with any product, it’s all based on what one can sell at a price the market can bear. Every penny is critical.

That’s why New York farmers take a beating.

The national average for taxes per farm acre is only $12.34. So, growers and dairymen in the Empire State are paying more than 3 times what their competition is paying in other states for their most important asset — land.

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