Locals join Conservancy for conservation easement workshop
By Michael Prochaska
Landowners seeking thorough guidelines and details of Georgia’s conservation easement regulations met Thursday, Aug. 30 at Burge Plantation in Mansfield for a day-long workshop.
Among the topics discussed were “how to design a conservation easement that works for you,” “the tax component of easements,” “the ethical implications of conservation easements” and a panel discussion on the changes in eligibility and appraisal review requirements of the conservation tax credit.
A conservation easement is a voluntary restriction on the use of land typically for the protection of wildlife habitat, protection of historic structures, public recreation or education purposes and other conservation values that yield a significant public benefit.
According to the Georgia Land Trust and Affiliates, about 200,000 acres have been protected with conservation easements with 24,721 acres protected in 2011.
David Wooldridge, an attorney of Sirote & Permutt, explained that the uses for conservation easement for preservation of habitat are far from limiting.
“Whatever the easement is, it can be much, much larger than the actual critical habitat you’re trying to focus on,” he said, adding that landowners also need to consider nesting, feeding and migratory space. “You have to think of this in a more global way than some people do”
Unless terminated through eminent domain, an easement is in place for perpetuity, said Kristina Sorensen, executive director of Conservation Tax Transfer, based in Madison.
One of the main topics discussed throughout the day was how to properly fill out the needed paper work to the IRS.
“This may be the largest tax deduction that a taxpayer can put on their tax return, and it’s subject to increased scrutiny,” said Stephanie Surles, a public accountant. “It’s so important to have your t’s crossed and your I’s dotted when you turn in your papers…Every time you work with the IRS, you learn how to do a better job next time.”
Another topic of discussion was the transferability of tax credits.
A recently passed bill by the Georgia General Assembly contained a package of tax code changes that encompassed stricter requirements on the state’s conservation easement tax credits. The state income tax credit for conservation land was originally passed in 2006 so that landowners who wished to donate a conservation easement could receive a credit worth up to 25 percent of fair market value of the donation, said Sorensen.
Beginning this year, Sorensen said, a transfer credit program is available, allowing landowners to sell their credit. This is a great benefit for lower income farmers and out-of-state owners.
“It’s really opened the door to more land owners who benefit from this tax incentive,” Sorensen said.
Other changes, such as the subdivision of property, caps for individuals and corporations, restrictions on conservation purposes and an application fee, were drafted in order to diminish the likelihood of fraud or abuse, Representative Doug Holt told the Morgan County Citizen in April.
Printed in the September 6, 2012 edition.