Going, going, gone
By Jessica Blomquist
The Morgan County Board of Commissioners heard a presentation by two members of the Morgan County Board of Assessors at its work session last Tuesday.
Tax assessors Ron Zay and Chuck Anglin offered information about the possible effects of a new law that has the potential to alter the minimum acreage for entry into Conservation Use. House Bill 281, passed on May 14, states that a county’s governing authority may establish a minimum acreage to qualify for Conservation Use.
Currently, the minimum is set at 10 acres, but the Assessor Board is recommending that minimum be increased to 25 acres. “I want you to think for a minute why the legislature took it upon themselves to change this law and allow that flexibility,” said Zay. “They didn’t do it on a whim. They did it because they’re having problems. They’re hearing problems from different counties about the small acreage being difficult to ascertain whether it’s truly in conservation use. Right up front, we are strongly recommending that you go to 25 acres.”
The Georgia Department of Revenue Web site states that Conservation Use, which assesses property at 40 percent of its current value, is designed to encourage property owners to continue using land for agricultural use instead of converting their property to residential or commercial use. Once a parcel of land qualifies for Conservation Use, the landowners must keep the property in qualifying condition for ten years.
One problem with the current acreage minimum is that many property owners do not keep their land in qualifying condition. “We’ve had people come in with receipts for goat feed and they’ve got five goats on 10 acres and they’re looking to get into conservation,” said Zay.
“That’s a sham.”
If the commissioners decide to increase the minimum acreage to 25 acres, properties that are currently covered by conservation use, but are fewer than 25 acres, will not be cut from the program immediately. It may take until the year 2021 for all properties under 25 acres to be disqualified for Conservation Use. Properties with an acreage below the established minimum that are up for renewal between now and 2011 and meet the qualifications would be renewed for an additional 10 years.
After that time, those properties would not be allowed to renew again. Properties subject to renewal on or after January 1, 2012, would not be qualified to renew for an additional 10 years. Morgan County currently has 11,350 parcels, with 434 of those consisting of fewer than 25 acres.
“We see the greatest number of problems in that range of acreage,” said Zay. Property owners with fewer than 25 acres who are genuinely in agriculture and would no longer be qualified for Conservation Use could instead apply for Agricultural Preferential assessment.
Anglin shared figures to compare tax savings using Agricultural Preferential assessment compared to Conservation Use assessment. One example was an 11.39-acre tract with two poultry houses located on it with no residence on the property. Taxes for the property without Conservation Use would be $2,475. With Conservation Use, the property owners would pay $1,470 and with Agricultural Preferential, $2,000.
Also discussed at the meeting was the progress on the aquatic center and pool. County Manager Michael Lamar said that the committee met with two of the bidders, USA Pools and Pamlico, to interview each for the job.
The higher bidder, Pamlico, who set a bid of $1.35 million, was decided against primarily because the bid was significantly higher than the $750,000 budgeted for the project.
The panel was also uncomfortable with USA Pools’ presentation. “We asked him to go back and get with his architect and harden up his numbers,” said Lamar.
Lamar also introduced the Fiscal Year 2009 Inmate/Detainee Work Detail Agreement, the price of which has increased to $39,500. One stipulation of the agreement states that if the inmate work crew misses more days than they are allowed to miss, the county will be reimbursed in the next fiscal year, but only if the county renews their contract with the Georgia Department of Corrections for the following year.
“I still think it’s worthwhile,” said Lamar. “You’re looking at a work team of five guys under a good day that provide viable services as far as picking up trash and those kind of things.”