Property taxes top ag priority list

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Property taxes are among the top issues for both of Minnesota's general farm organizations as the legislative session gets underway in St. Paul.

ST. PAUL — Property taxes are among the top issues for both of Minnesota's general farm organizations as the legislative session gets underway in St. Paul.

Property taxes have gone way up, especially in southeastern Minnesota, said Thom Petersen, Minnesota Farmers Union government relations director.

Property taxes are the No. 1 topic Farm Bureau members talk to him about, said Doug Busselman, Minnesota Farm Bureau public policy director. They are particularly concerned about increasing property taxes on agricultural land while prices for corn and soybeans are dropping.

Farm Bureau created a seven-member task force to look at property taxes, Busselman said. Dissatisfaction with the current system, particularly the inability of landowners to vote in school elections where they own property, but do not reside, led to the creation of the task force, he said.

The group met four times, beginning in July, and heard from county assessors and county auditors, townships, the Minnesota School Boards Association, the Department of Education and Department of Revenue and others as they developed a strategy to make a difference in the property tax system.


The task force discovered there is not one single way to fix it; rather, it's a complex system with many moving figures.

"There's no single situation anywhere," Busselman said.

A change made to the property tax formula last session championed by Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, helped, Busselman and Petersen agreed, but more needs to be done.

Farm Bureau did an overall comparison using FINBIN data and found agricultural property taxes increased 119 percent on the farm enterprise budget from 2001-13.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, chairman of the Property Tax and Local Government Finance Division, plans to introduce legislation this week or next that puts farmers on the same footing as people who live in town when it comes to paying for bond issues, or capital improvements. Farmers would be taxed on their house, garage and one acre, not on the agricultural property.

This is how farmers are taxed for school district operating levies, the money that is used for general operating expenses. This change was made after then-Sen. Kenric Scheevel, R-Preston, and Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, pushed for it in the late 1990s.

Drazkowski said his bill will cover capital improvement bonds going forward; it will not apply to capital improvement bonds that are in effect. It would be impossible, both from a practical and political standpoint, to make the change retroactive, Drazkowski said.

The legislation won't lower property taxes immediately, he said.


Drazkowski is in talks with a senator, in hopes he will sponsor the legislation in the Senate.

Drazkowski also will embark on a series of property tax town hall meetings around the state. He wants to hear ideas from citizens on ways to improve the property tax system and also about how the state's property tax system impacts people.

Petersen hopes farmers talk with legislators about their property taxes and how the taxes have changed.


In Minnesota, livestock producers are compensated for losses incurred from wolf damage.

A total of $200,000 is allocated for the biennium and is split between the wolf fund and elk fund, according to a Minnesota Department of Agriculture spokesman.

As of Jan. 8 money remained in the fund, however there are several claims in the system, the spokesman said. If the fund runs out of money, farmers would be directed to federal assistance.

Busselman said the need for compensation is expected to increase since a federal judge ruled Dec. 19 that the gray wolf belongs on the endangered species list.


The ruling affects wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service handed over management of those wolves to the states.

The federal judge's decision prohibits wolf hunting and trapping. Further, livestock producers are prohibited from defending their livestock from wolves. Wolves only can be killed in defense of human life, Busselman said.

On Jan. 5, Minnesota Farmers Union sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the secretary of the Department of the Interior urging they appeal the ruling that returned the gray wolf to the endangered species list.

"This recent court decision leaves Minnesota family farmers and ranchers very little options in dealing with a very deadly predator to their livestock," MFU president Doug Peterson wrote in the letter.


Farmers Union wants to make sure Minnesota farmers get their fair share during this budget session, Petersen said. They want strong funding for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute and the Board of Animal Health.

In addition, they support the Agricultural Growth, Research, and Innovation fund, which was created by the Legislature to enhance Minnesota's agricultural economy. Their AGRI priorities are value-added agriculture, livestock, county fair and farm-to-school grants and opportunities for beginning farmers.

They support increased funding for dairy and meat inspection in order to add more inspectors, especially at state-inspected meat markets. They also support funding for Minnesota Grown, dairy development and organic and sustainable programs ran by the department.



Busselman said Farm Bureau will lobby to make sure townships and local governments receive the necessary funding to take care of local roads and bridges. There's talk there might be a road and bill bonding bill this session.


Farm business management needs stabilization in funding, Petersen said. Farmers Union also supports funding for other agricultural education including 4-H, Extension and University of Minnesota research.

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