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Fairness felled by misplaced priorities | As I See It
By Charles Zalmanek
Special to the Journal
Legislation was enacted in 1993 that allowed counties to implement the Open Space Farm Conservation Program because many farmers, whose lands were enrolled in the Current Use Farm and Agricultural Program (a commercial farming program), were reaching the age where they could no longer physically continue to commercially farm their land.
This program helps reduce the amount of unproductive farmland from development by providing a tax break until the land is once again productive. At that time, San Juan County chose to not implement the farm conservation program.
In 2008, the assessor sent a questionnaire to all classified farmland owners as part of the responsibility to monitor ongoing compliance with the classification. Shortly thereafter, one of these farmland owners came into the assessor’s office and explained that he had not been commercially farming for many years.
He asked what options were available for his land, since he knew that his land did not continue to qualify for the current use farm and agricultural program.
The assessor explained that his best option would be to apply for the farm conservation program and then encourage the County Council to implement that program. This gentleman was in a unique position to accomplish this as he was a sitting council member.
After three years of working with the planning commission, the prosecuting attorney, other county legislatures and the state Department of Revenue, the previous six-member council developed and implemented the open space farm conservation program.
Now, three years after adoption, the current council is considering revising the program. The final hearing and adoption of revisions is scheduled for May 20.
If the council wants to address problems with the open space program, there is a pressing topic that deserves the council’s attention.
The county implemented the Public Benefit Rating System (PBRS) for open space in 1990. It has been revised several times since 1990 and the law requires the council to re-rate all previously rated properties when the PBRS is revised.
After 24 years, this has yet to be done.
Shouldn’t the council stop putting this requirement on the back burner instead of revising an ordinance that was carefully developed and adopted only three years ago?
Isn’t it time that the council consider the majority of taxpayers in our county, ordinary law-abiding citizens, who are becoming increasingly weary of paying more than their fair share of taxes?
— Editor’s note: Charles Zalmanek’s second term as county assessor expires at the end of the year. He is not seeking reelection .