Down on the Cochecton farm

By LINDA DROLLINGER
Posted 11/26/19

LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY — Sullivan County farming, in decline for decades, is apparently on the rise, as evidenced by a noticeable drop in assessed value for properties in the Town of …

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Down on the Cochecton farm

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LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY — Sullivan County farming, in decline for decades, is apparently on the rise, as evidenced by a noticeable drop in assessed value for properties in the Town of Cochecton.

New York State handed out 89,000 property tax breaks for agricultural land in 2018, according to the New York State Office of Real Property Tax Services, thereby reducing property values by $7 billion. But strict land and income criteria are designed to ensure that only productive working farms are eligible for agricultural property tax exemptions.

The state caps the value of each “tillable” acre at a dollar amount considerably lower than that of residential and commercial properties, with the actual figure determined primarily by soil quality. By definition, a working farm must produce crops, livestock, or livestock products for sale; commercial horse boarding also qualifies. In addition, certain income standards must be met and sustained. The minimum standard to qualify for an agricultural exemption is average annual gross sales of $10,000 over two years on at least seven acres of land. Properties with less than seven acres can still qualify, if they gross at least $50,000.

Cochecton supervisor Gary Maas promised months ago that all agricultural exemptions would be carefully scrutinized for conformity with the state’s working farm requirements.

Councilman Sean Nearing raised the subject again at the November 13 Cochecton Town Board meeting, this time expressing worries about agricultural exemptions to the town’s assessor, Lorry King. In response to his concerns, King said, “Farming is a beneficial thing; we want to encourage it.”

Local farms have been an economic and health boon to the area, diminished property tax revenue notwithstanding. Thronged local farmers’ markets, the proliferation of high-quality locavore (someone who eats only locally-sourced food) restaurants, local grocery store shelves filled with fresh products from nearby farms, and the increasing presence of local farmers at New York metro area farmers’ markets testify to that.

Viewed in the larger context, a drop in real property tax revenue might be construed as investment in local businesses, long known by economists to yield manifold economic benefits to the community.

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