No incentive for county to make sure tax burden is spread fairly
Monitoring of programs which provide tax breaks for owners of designated Current Use property is not prescribed by the state. The legislature created the programs, but left it up to the individual county assessors to determine how to ensure compliance.
In San Juan County, the programs are not being monitored adequately due to "lack of funding" says county Assessor Charles Zalmanek.
Three of the five programs - Current Use Open, Current Use Timber and Current Use Agricultural Conservation are processed through the Community Development and Planning Department. In order to qualify for these programs, a property must receive 30 points under the public benefit rating system developed by the county. This system is in addition to the criteria set by the state. One glitch in the Current Use Ag Conservation program - there is no way to receive 30 points.
The other two programs, Current Use Farm and Agriculture Open Space, and Designated Forest Land, are run through the assessor's office. The owners of property in these programs must either be actively engaged in farming or logging.
When Zalmanek sent out notices to everyone in the Farm and Ag program to submit records showing they had received income from farming, county Council members received calls from angry constituents.
Zalmanek requested more funding. The council denied his request and asked for creation of a Current Use Agricultural Conservation program so non-farming property owners currently in the Current Use Farm and Ag program could slide over into a conservation program.
The council apparently was unaware of the existence of the program. Sixteen applicants have been waiting for a year and a half to enter. They, including Council member Gene Knapp, were enrolled in the Current Use Farm and Agriculture program even though they hadn't been actively farming.
According to Leslie Mullin, state Department of Revenue Current Use Supervisor the county has to process all applicants.
"We have a system that doesn't work, said CDP Department Director Rene Beliveau. "If we process the applications, they will all be rejected." The department is short-staffed due to cutbacks and this is not a top priority.
The existence of the programs does not affect the overall tax revenue of the county. It only makes a difference on how the tax burden is divided up among the citizenry. Some pay a greater share because of others getting to pay less. The rationale is the Current Use participants are providing a public benefit with their land - providing a view or a habitat, preserving a historic building, site or farmland, farming or logging. Activities the rest of the taxpayers pay for by paying more taxes to make up for the tax breaks the Current Use propery owners receive.