Tonawanda News

Columns

September 4, 2013

CONFER: Ease the tax growth on farmers

(Continued)

Tonawanda News — That’s more than significant. Comparing apples to apples, suppose a grower in New York tends to 1,000 acres of orchards. His tax bill would be $38,410. His out-of-state competitors of equal size would pay just $12,340. The New Yorker has to either pass the extra $26,070 on to customers (highly unlikely) or he has to settle for a lower profit (likely). Property taxes account for 15 percent of net income for our farms, while in Idaho they account for just 5 percent. By sporting larger profits at the end of the year, farmers in states like Idaho can buy more equipment, land and buildings and hire more people than those operating here. 

So, how do we make things better? It’s tough. Major agricultural tax reform is not on any state legislator’s radar, especially since the state and most municipalities are still suffering the effects of the Great Recession and can ill-afford even lower revenues.

But, a simple yet effective bill, one that doesn’t necessarily help the present, but helps the future, offers some hope to farmers who are used to their already-high taxes rising every year. It would put a reasonable cap on the growth in agricultural land assessments. Current state law maintains a 10 percent cap, but that cap — or a percentage very near it — has been met with regularity. The bill would institute a 2 percent cap on the assessments, mirroring the 2 percent tax cap that the state put on residential property taxes. By having assessment growth lowered significantly, farms will bear a lower share of taxes in coming years and it will give their owners a greater ability to plan for the future and more money to invest. 

Championed by the New York Farm Bureau, S.1952/A.165 passed both the Senate and Assembly and has been sitting on Governor Cuomo’s desk awaiting his signature. He now has the power to make it law and the power to maintain the status quo. New York’s farmers don’t deserve the latter nor does our region as a whole: Agriculture accounts for a $120 million-plus portion of Niagara County’s economy and a similar amount in Orleans County.

Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American magazine at TheNewAmerican.com. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer

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